Vera Farmiga and Keanu Reeves in Henry’s Crime

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, yeah (don’t do it!). Or so Sammy Davis, Jr. once sang.  But if you already did the time without doing the crime, society kind of owes you one, doesn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t going ahead and doing the deed you were wrongly convicted of tip the scales of justice back into balance? That’s the philosophical question that turns Keanu Reeves’ Henry from a mild-mannered tollbooth operator into a criminal mastermind and that’s also the conceit of the dryly comic Henry’s Crime, the story of a man who unknowingly aids and abets a bank robbery and goes to jail for it where he’s inspired to really rob that bank upon release.

The sophomore feature of commercial director Malcolm Venville (44 Inch Chest) and co-written by Sacha Gervaisi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil), Henry’s Crime is another one of those slightly-too-cute for reality conceits that forms the basis of any number of a long line of indie heist pictures (a genre unto itself), but this one gets enough mileage out of both Reeves and a slightly unhinged Vera Farmiga to make it all worthwhile.

How one responds to Reeves as Henry will probably determine one’s reaction to the movie. To say that he is laconic is an understatement. He’s practically somnambulant and he might be difficult to empathize with for anyone who has never known the paralysis that fear of conflict or pain or change can cause. Me? I’ve experienced that paralysis. It was called “my 30s” so I found Henry to be kind of identifiable. Your results may vary. The character as written is a little overdone, but Keanu (an actor who I can generally take or leave depending on the material) is a perfect fit and he accomplishes a lot with very little. There’s a gentle humanity and decency to Henry even while his passivity is frustrating. It’s easy to root for him when he finally (inevitably) takes charge of his life.

Vera Farmiga meanwhile is the yang to Reeves’ yin. The sour to his sweet. The chocolate to his peanut butter. The hare to his tortoise. The.. well you get the point. Counterpointing his reserve, she’s an exposed nerve covering her insecurity with constant bluster and activity. She plays an actress who literally hits Henry with her car one day before (a little too coincidentally) coming between him and his plan which involves a prohibition era tunnel that connects an old theater to a bank. Naturally he falls for her and this complicates the scenario exponentially. It’s predictable, but Farmiga is very funny and the pair have a surprising chemistry.

Rounding things off, James Caan lends energetic support as Henry’s cell mate, a con man who has grown to be more comfortable inside of jail than out, but who reluctantly agrees to lend his expertise to the enterprise. Bill Duke (The Limey) is also great as the bank security guard who originally fingers Henry. Add a supporting turn from the always amusing Peter Stormare (Fargo) as a ball busting theater director and you’ve ultimately got a nimble entertainment that more than accounts for its genre familiarity with plenty of personality.

Henry’s Crime. USA 2010 (released 2011). Directed by Malcolm Venville. Screenplay by Sacha Gervasi and David White. Cinematography by Paul Cameron. Edited by Curtiss Clayton. Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, Judy Greer, James Caan, Peter Stormare, Fisher Stevens and Bill Duke. 1 hour 48 minutes. MPAA rated R for language. 3.5 stars (out of 5)

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