Naomi Watts has been a part of many great films throughout her career. Unfortunately, the Academy Award-nominated actress has also made her share of stinkers. One such movie has now found its way to Netflix, but we’ll let you decide if the critical reaction to the movie is warranted.
The Book of Henry stars Naomi Watts as Susan, a single mother of two boys. Susan is a waitress and is also working on writing children’s books. 11-year-old Henry (Jaeden Martell) is a genius and has used his vast intellect to invest successfully in the stock market. His younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) is constantly getting bullied at school, so Henry makes it his mission to protect his brother.
This Naomi Watts flick starts off simple enough. One night from his treehouse, Henry believes he sees his neighbor and classmate Christina being abused by her stepfather, police commissioner Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris). Henry takes his suspicions with him to his school principal Janice Wilder, who becomes reluctant to accuse Glenn without substantial evidence.
Unable to get help, Henry begins to detail a rescue plan that he puts in a notebook. But Henry has a violent seizure that requires his hospitalization. While there, Henry is diagnosed with a brain tumor that requires surgery. Though the surgery was complete, Henry doesn’t believe he has much longer, so he tells Peter to make sure their mother (Naomi Watts) gets the notebook. Sadly, a few days later Henry succumbs to the tumor.
Susan is rightfully so distraught at her son’s death. When Peter gives her Henry’s notebook, she is able to focus on Henry’s findings and his solution. And this is where the Naomi Watts movie gets a little off the rails.
One night, Henry’s suspicions are confirmed when Susan sees Glenn in Christina’s room. She decides to carry out Henry’s plans detailed in the notebook and the cassette tape he also included. Henry’s idea – a step-by-step plan to kill Glenn with a sniper rifle and a way to cover Susan’s tracks so as not to get caught. Naomi Watts is going to become a sniper. Susan follows Henry’s plan to the letter. Then she puts her finger on the trigger.
In spite of a Naomi Watts starring role, critics were not fond of director Colin Trevorrow’s effort with The Book of Henry. Scribe Gregg Hurwitz first penned the script back in 1998 and since that time had been trying to get the script produced. Trevorrow was brought on board in 2015 but then was hired to take on Jurassic World and another director was considered. Nothing came of that and after Trevorrow completed Jurassic World, he went back to The Book of Henry.
It ended up not being a positive move for Trevorrow or the many involved with the film. While Watts received decent praise for her performance, the movie as a whole just didn’t work with all its tonal changes.
Owen Gleiberman from Variety noted that “There’s the kind of bad movie that just sits there, unfolding with grimly predictable monotony. Then there’s the kind where the badness expands and metastasizes, taking on a jaw-dropping life of its own, pushing through to ever-higher levels of garishness. The Book of Henry … is of the latter, you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-disbelieve-it.”
Gleiberman was not the only one who thoroughly disliked The Book of Henry. Noted movie critic Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was just as unkind with his take on the film. “The Book of Henry starts well, begins flirting with absurdity in the middle – and ends in crashing disaster. But the feeling persists that director Colin Treverrow believes every word in the shambles of a 20-year-old screenplay by crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz.”
What’s surprising about the film is that audience reaction seems to favor the film as it sits with a 63% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Favorable or not, the box office numbers tell the story. Trevorrow made The Book of Henry for $10 million and it only saw a $4.6 million return.
As for Naomi Watts, her career has been filled with many ups and downs. She’s been twice nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award (for 21 Grams in 2003 and for 2012s The Impossible) and has a number of other highly noted films. They include Mulholland Dr., Heart Huckabees, King Kong, Eastern Promises, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), St. Vincent, and The Ring.
With all the good, though, there has been a number of bad. Tank Girl, Children of the Corn: The Gathering and Strange Planet are just a few of her early career misfires.
As Naomi Watts’s career advanced, her choice of roles greatly improved. In 2017, Watts crossed over to television as she was seen in the series Gypsy as well as the Twin Peaks reboot. Lately, Watts was seen in the mini-series The Loudest Voice. She was also in the feature Boss Level co-starring with Frank Grillo and Mel Gibson.
Naomi Watts has a number of projects on her schedule including Lakewood and Once Upon a Time in Staten Island. She also plans on returning to television opposite Bobby Cannavale with the mystery/horror series The Watcher. If you’re up to it, head over to Netflix and give The Book of Henry a try. Maybe you’ll see something positive that critics couldn’t.