THE FORCE AWAKENS Box Office Alternative: Before STAR WARS, Abrams and Ford Teamed Up for the…

by Frank Calvillo

Box Office Alternative Column

Box Office Alternative is a weekly look into additional/optional choices to the big-budget spectacle opening up at your local movie theater every Friday. Oftentimes, titles will consist of little-known or underappreciated work from the same actor/writer/director/producer of said new release, while at other times, the selection for the week just happens to touch upon the same subject in a unique way. Above all, this is a place to revisit and/or discover forgotten cinematic gems of all kinds.

For legions of fans, the idea of Harrison Ford returning to what is arguably his most iconic character is a cinematic event no one ever thought would come to be. However, this week the impossible comes true with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Early word has been more than positive on Writer/Director J.J. Abrams’ take on George Lucas’ beloved mega film franchise with pre-release ticket sales continuing to break records. For those having to endure the painful wait before seeing what is undoubtedly the most anticipated movie of the decade, a great time killer would be a viewing of a previous, unheralded Ford/Abrams collaboration, Regarding Henry.

In the Mike Nichols-directed film, Ford plays Henry Turner, a powerful New York lawyer who on the surface appears to have it all. However, Henry’s enviable and impressive career has compromised both his relationship with his wife Sarah (Annette Bening), daughter Rachel (Mikki Allen) and turned him into an emotionally callous individual. One night when Henry is out buying cigarettes, he is shot after interrupting a convenience store robbery. After months in intensive care and rehab, Henry returns home a stranger to the life he left behind. As he begins to put back together the pieces of his former existence, Henry embarks on a mission to discover who he was then and who he is now.

Credited as Jeffrey Abrams, Regarding Henry represents a turning point in the young writer’s career. No burgeoning writer could have asked for a better break at such an early stage than working with people of Nichols’ and Ford’s caliber and it’s certainly easy to see why such talent was attracted to Abrams’ work. The script for Regarding Henry is rich in character and atmosphere. There may not be much in the way of plot or twists, but it doesn’t matter. Watching Henry’s transformation and reconnection with his family, and himself, is so compelling that the absence of a traditional plot is never noticed. The downside of films such as these is that as a result of their structure, it becomes easy to get lost in character at the expense of pacing. However, Abrams’ ability to keep the proceedings moving at such a precise pace allows characters and scenes to be explored with no risk of the audience ever getting bored.

Regarding Henry certainly occupies an odd place in the Nichols canon. For years, the director made his name with films which featured powerhouse scenes and electrifying dialogue. Titles such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Silkwood and The Graduate were each loaded with the kind of explosive energy movie lovers crave. The character-driven Regarding Henry, however, may be the most uncharacteristic Nichols film in that it doesn’t have any such moments to rely on. Nichols recognizes the film as a genuine character study of a lost man trying to find out how he disappeared. It’s a testament to the director’s skill that he manages to convey Henry’s emotional journey without an overuse of dialogue. With Regarding Henry, Nichols brought to life a film about moments, rather than scenes.

It’s difficult to describe the level of commitment and sensitivity Ford brings to the role of Henry. The actor plays his character as distant in the beginning, but manages to keep him slightly sympathetic at the same time. By contrast, scenes following Henry’s accident give Ford the opportunity to explore levels of raw vulnerability which eluded him in past roles. A role such as Henry can usually border on the sentimental, but in Ford’s hands, he’s continuously played as a devastating and heartwarming individual throughout.

Though she’s saddled with the “wife” role, Bening elevates the part and brings such warmth and delicateness to the film. It would be easy for any actress to let Ford upstage her, especially with a role like Henry. However, Bening believes in Sarah so much as a person, she is able to match Ford on all levels of emotion and fragility.

Regarding Henry is the kind of film which thrives during the end of year movie season where such dramas are welcomed by audiences and awards groups. However, with a release date of early summer bestowed upon it, the film was passed over by moviegoers in favor of seasonal blockbuster fare.

From now on Regarding Henry may only be remembered as a piece of Star Wars trivia in relation to Ford and Abrams’. Yet those actually willing to explore the film will recognize Regarding Henry as a thoughtful story of a man rediscovering himself and finally getting to live the life he was meant to all along.

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