Defending “Book of Henry” — Maybe It’s Time to Give Colin Trevorrow a Break for a Movie Few People Saw (Opinion)


Getty Images / Focus Features

This past week—yesterday, in fact—one of the biggest breaking stories was that would be returning as director for .

Maybe it wasn’t too big a surprise, because clearly, he needed something to direct after dropping out of directing Star Wars Episode IX, but I have a bad feeling this is just going to open up another can of worms for those who have spent the past few years attacking Trevorrow.

You see, , for whatever reason, has become the whipping boy for fanboys and radical feminists alike within the movie Twitter-verse, because he went from directing a small indie called Safety Not Guaranteed (which wasn’t his first movie, mind you) to directing Jurassic World. That went on to become huge global blockbuster, and he was soon hired by Kathleen Kennedy to direct Star Wars Episode IX, which is meant to be the end of Lucasfilm’s new trilogy.

Trevorrow started developing that movie with his writing partner Derek Connolly, but since Episode VIII was still in with Rian Johnson directing, he decided to use his post-Jurassic World clout to get a smaller movie he’d been eyeing to get made before the Star Wars gig came up.

That movie was Book of Henry, a small indie thriller starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special) and Jacob Tremblay (Room) about a boy named Henry (played by Lieberher) who discovers that the girl next door might be getting abused by her police chief father.

When I first watched the movie, I didn’t hate it, but I knew that it was going to have trouble finding fans, because it’s particularly difficult material and a movie where the main protagonist dies halfway through the movie. It also has Watts playing a neglectful mother who steps up to get justice for the neighbor’s girl following instructions from her dead pre-teen son.  Got all that? It’s basically a movie featuring kids that’s not a kid’s movie which is a rarity these days.

BookOfHenryTrevorrow2Focus Features

Needless to say, the critics hated the movie, and they went after Book of Henry with a level of verve and vigor that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. Could it be that maybe some of the fanboy critics that love the Star Wars franchise and were worried about Trevorrow taking it over had ulterior motives for the take-down of Book of Henry? It certainly seemed like it as fanboys called for Trevorrow to be fired from Episode IX without having even seen Book of Henry. Personally, I think a lot of critics went into Book of Henry with big expectations following Jurassic World but not really knowing what to expect or how to register or understand what the film was trying to achieve.

I actually interviewed Trevorrow and writer Greg Hurwitz for a feature on the film, so I was able to ask them more directly about the film’s difficult premise and the movie’s last act twist of sorts. After talking to them, it was clear they were trying to make a statement about vigilante justice — something Hurwitz had explored while writing both Marvel’s Punisher and DC’s Batman — as the film tried to make allegories to today’s desire for justice that comes from places like Twitter where people’s voices can be heard and often the loudest voices win out.

Book of Henry was released by Focus Features into 579 theaters on June 16 last summer and no surprise that it bombed very badly, grossing just $4.5 million total, although it has to be remembered that this was basically an indie movie with a little more clout behind it due to Trevorrrow’s Jurassic World success.

I’m not sure either Trevorrow or Hurwitz knew that this sort of desire for “justice” would awaken the fanboys and feminists who were already angry about Trevorrow’s “failing upwards”–as if Jurassic World was even remotely a failure–and that he was getting such high-profile directing gigs over a woman, a director of color or even of some other director that the fanboys would rather see tackle Star Wars, ranging from Christopher Nolan to any number of others. Trevorrow’s only mistake was being a white male director at a particularly bad time where audiences were demanding diversity and change.

When Trevorrow departed Episode IX a few months later — with not much in the way of details or a real explanation, mind you — it was like the dawn of a new day for those that were already going after Trevorrow. It was a chance for them to say, “See? He doesn’t deserve all that success.”

Except that most of the people saying that didn’t even bother to see Book of Henry, and those that did see it were already going into it biased to hate it and without the desire of giving the movie any sort of fair chance.

Fact is that if Book of Henry premiered at some film festival, it probably would have been treated the same, but if some other director made the exact same movie—bearing in mind that few other directors might have even been able to get it made—it would at least have been watched with an open mind.

The fact is that only two people really know what happened with Episode IX—Trevorrow and Kathleen Kennedy—and there’s bound to be quite literally a he-said she-said situation depending on who goes on record first. (Fortunately, neither will be doing many, if any, interviews this year, but I expect it to be a question that any sane journalist would ask if given the opportunity to interview either one.)

Fanboys just assumed that the backlash towards Book of Henry and how poorly it did commercially convinced Kennedy and Trevorrow to part ways, but that seems pretty ridiculous. More likely, they just had differing opinions on where the story should go and Kennedy being the of Lucasfilm and the keeper of the franchise gate, she won out and Trevorrow moved on.

JurassicWorld2TrevorrowUniversal Pictures

Meanwhile, Trevorrow had still been very closely linked to the Jurassic World franchise, having written the second chapter and remaining on as  for what would become Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, out in just three short months. It made sense that Trevorrow now being available, it would make sense for him to direct the third movie, just like it made sense to bring J.J. Abrams back for Episode IX.

You also have to be aware that Jurassic World Frank Marshall and Star Wars Kathleen Kennedy have been husband and wife for over thirty years. Between the two of them, they’re responsible for four of the top 10 highest-grossing movies domestically. (If Kevin Feige and Avatar Jon Landau were to elope, they’d have some serious competition as Hollywood’s true power couple.)

You would think that Kennedy, after having the idea to bring Trevorrow onto Star Wars following his success with Jurassic World, would probably have checked with Marshall about his experience working with the director.  If there was any true acrimony remaining between Trevorrow and Kennedy, why would Marshall agree to have Trevorrow direct the third Jurassic World? That decision could very well have been Spielberg’s doing since he was the one to announce Trevorrow’s return, but he’s been working with Marshall long enough that both of them agreed bringing Trevorrow back was the right decision.

So that’s it. Trevorrow is now developing Jurassic World 3 (or whatever it will be called) for its June 11, 2021 release date, and it’s co-written by a woman, Emily Carmichael, whose contributions to Pacific Rim: Uprising helped make that such a fun and entertaining movie (in my opinion).

Frankly, I’m more stunned that they’re already talking about a third chapter to that franchise, one that won’t be released for three years from now, even before the Juan Bayona-directed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has been released. The plan was to always make it a trilogy (similar to Star Wars) so it makes just as much sense for Trevorrow to return as it does for J.J. Abrams to finish off the Star Wars trilogy he began in 2015 with The Force Awakens.

Personally, I loved the first Jurassic World, and I’m eager to see if Trevorrow is able to deliver a satisfying and successful trilogy, since there have been so few over the years.

Book of Henry might not have any sort of place in film history other than the controversy that followed it, but it’s definitely not a bad movie as much as a more difficult and challenging one.

  | East Coast Editor

1 Comment

  1. Ian Anthony Kane on

    How dare you be logical and ration, good sir!

    Great article, btw, though I’m sure film twitter will be excited to needlessly crap on it, being the sniveling little edgelords they are. I hope you write more analysis pieces cause this one is great.

Leave A Reply