Harrison Ford continues to pick just the right roles for his understated style of acting, and his performance in "Regarding Henry" is particularly deft.
He plays the title character, Henry Turner, a wealthy New York attorney who is self-absorbed and utterly ruthless. The film's early scenes show us how hard he can be in the courtroom and how cold he can be with his wife, Sarah (Annette Bening), and young daughter, Rachel (Mikkie Allen).
Yet even these moments, though brief, are never overplayed.
Director Mike Nichols, who previously directed Ford in "Working Girl" (and whose many films include "The Graduate," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Silkwood" and "Postcards From the Edge"), has purposely kept "Regarding Henry" at a simple level, in keeping with the lead character's development through the film.
After the early setup scenes, Henry leaves his expensive and expansive posh apartment complex to get some cigarettes at the local convenience store, where he is abruptly shot in the head by a thief.
The film's lengthier second act is taken up with Henry's gradual recovery as he works daily with an enthusiastic physical therapist (Bill Nunn), learning all over again to talk, walk and think. And during these moments, effective as they are, you may begin to wonder if this isn't going to be just another movie about a disabled man undergoing a difficult rehabilitation. (You'll no doubt think of "Awakenings," which this film occasionally resembles.)
Once he is physically able to return home, however, Henry still doesn't remember his family or friends. And the film's third act takes an unusual turn as he gradually learns that prior to his accident he wasn't the nicest of people and he's not quite sure what to do about it.
Ford plays the role in an innocent, childlike fashion as Henry is forced to learn the simplest things all over again. He is utterly convincing and invests more than a little humor in the proceedings, though never at the expense of the character.
Cynicism suggests Ford might be looking for an Oscar with this role of a disabled man on the road to recovery hey, it worked for Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot") and Dustin Hoffman ("Rain Man"). But even if it's true, so what? Ford is a natural here and in my book certainly deserves at least a nomination. (Bening, Nunn, young Allen and the rest of the cast also deserve kudos.)
There's more here, though, as "Regarding Henry" gets into the all-too-true notion that sometimes it takes a tragedy to force people to re-examine themselves and the lives they are leading. Henry gets a second chance, an opportunity to right the wrongs in his life.
Some might carp that Nichols' film gives Henry these opportunities a bit too simplistically, but in context it seems appropriate. There are other films, of course, that suggest the easiest, most direct approach can often circumvent the complications we make for our own lives, as naive as it may seem to some "Awakenings" and "Being There" come to mind. And in the future, "Regarding Henry" should be included in the same breath.
If you're looking for a sensitive alternative to the mindless mayhem that dominates movie theaters this time of year, don't miss this one.
"Regarding Henry" is rated PG-13 for violence (the convenience store scene), a fair amount of profanity and a discreet sex scene.