The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar Review
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023) Film Review, a short movie directed by Wes Anderson, written by Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, Richard Ayoade, Jarvis Cocker, David Gant and Linda Telfer.
As a huge fan of Wes Anderson, it must be said that it took some time to warm up to his new short film, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. With Asteroid City, Anderson created one of the most entertaining feature films of 2023 but this new short film has stolen a lot of its thunder and looks more likely to get Anderson into next year’s Oscar ceremony than that star-studded feature. This short film is admittedly very clever though it’s too smart for its own good. Penned mostly by the great Roald Dahl, the movie is an excuse for some great actors to play multiple parts in a hilarious fashion. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is intriguing but those used to Anderson’s whimsical story lines may find it a little closer in spirit to the work of Dahl than to the fantastic obscurity of Anderson’s work.
In reviewing a short film, it’s not always best to divulge all the major plot points. However, Anderson’s new brief film is not very story driven. It’s a clever series of ideas that keep the viewer nodding its head in approval of the humorous line delivery by the key stars. Ben Kingsley is absolutely perfect as Imdad Khan and Croupier. By the way, Kingsley is also in the shorter Anderson Netflix movie, Poison which is currently streaming. Kingsley’s work as Imdad Khan is so terrific that viewers will undoubtedly smile at Kingsley’s priceless lines. This character claims to be able to see without using his eyes. When a towel is put around his head, Imdad still manages to run around like he can see every step of the way. It’s done in a terrifically offbeat Anderson way. Kingsley also serves as a casino worker (Croupier) later in the movie.
Dev Patel gets two rather clever parts here as well. One of them is Dr. Chatterjee who traces Imdad Khan’s progress with his vision. The other is John Winston who plays an accountant that comes into the movie in a scenario that plays out interestingly regarding the main character of the film, Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch).
The great Ralph Fiennes is also in a dual role here as Dahl, himself, the narrator of the picture who introduces the Henry Sugar of the film’s title in an unflattering way at the start of the film. Fiennes sinks his teeth into his part with great zest. He’s also memorable as a cop who shows up at Sugar’s door when Sugar starts throwing money off his rooftop which Sugar has acquired through gambling. Fiennes is a master craftsman and his work in the movie is among his best recent performances despite the film’s brief running time.
Cumberbatch is the main character in the picture and he’s got some great moments such as when he walks off screen and comes back with a beard which reflects the passage of time. As Sugar has constructed a way to gamble efficiently and win, he takes on several personas, including that of a woman. Anderson shows us Cumberbatch’s Sugar donning different disguises which are certainly enjoyable to behold. Cumberbatch revels in a hysterical performance that is a high quality one for the distinguished actor.
However, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar has plenty of problems that manifest themselves throughout the picture’s duration. Without much of a story, the picture is more of a series of funny observations with detailed explanations. This movie has received much acclaim but, in my opinion, Anderson’s features are where the quality of his work tends to flourish. In a short movie format, there is a lack of urgency in some of the events that occur here even if the scenes are funny and flow quite well. Anderson’s scenes in this short are observant but lack the scope of his larger ensemble movies which is both understandable and underwhelming.
That being said, if you are an Anderson fan (perhaps even a bigger one than me), you will be in your glory here. It took me two sittings to get through the movie and then a third to fully digest the events of it. Anderson has created several shorts for Netflix which are half the length of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. While it’s admirable that Anderson is trying new things, I prefer Asteroid City to the new short film by quite a bit. Still, the comic observations of Dahl and Anderson make The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar worth seeing.
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