Sunday, June 26, 2011

HENRY'S CRIME (2011) - Review

The biggest crime of them all is to just waste away your life. I guess that's the message that lays at the core of "Henry's Crime", a mixed bag of a comedy, starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga. Director Malcolm Venville, an independent filmmaker, aims for a meaningful and ponderous piece of cinema, but ends up with an uneven (and uneasy) blend of comedy and heist movie.

Henry (Reeves) is a night shift toll collector. Not exactly a dream job. We see him carry his own weight around like a zombie, drifting absently through the day. He seems disconnected from everything around him. You could say he lacks a clear goal in life. He has a girlfriend, but he stares right through her. Their relationship seems close enough to a breaking point. One day a friend asks Henry to join him at a baseball game. Driving there, they stop at a bank. His friend robs the bank, but Henry takes the fall. He even goes to jail, because he won't name names. There, he meets Max (Caan), a con man who so much enjoys his time behind bars that he's intentionally failing his parole hearings. He too has no purpose in life. The two befriend, but Henry is released after a year.

Henry returns to the bank he never actually robbed and gets run over by a hot-headed actress, Julie (Farmiga), who is currently involved in the production of "The Cherry Orchard" by Chekhov. A romance sparks later on. Before that, however, Henry discovers an old tunnel, dating back to the days of the prohibition, connecting the backstage area of Julie's theater to the bank's vault. An idea blooms in Henry's passive mind. Why not rob the bank for real ? But, he needs help, so, he convinces Max to actually pass his parole hearing and join him in the heist. Using Julie, they enlist Henry as an actor in the play, gaining access to the theater's dressing rooms from where they can enter the tunnel and dig their way to the vault.

It sounds like the perfect set-up for a hilarious comedy, or a thrilling heist movie, or both. But it's not. In reality, the movie is an exploration of Henry's transformation, of a man hopelessly lost who finds his purpose through love and learns to really open his eyes. Even though the execution might seem unconventional, it's really the opposite. The plot follows familiar routines, but never really commits to a single genre, which makes the movie feel like an offroad experience. Keanu Reeves acts like he always does, flat and dull, but here there's a good reason for it. Caan and Farmiga on the other hand are a real delight, easily enhancing the whole experience. Peter Stormare as the impassioned russian theater director crafts a superbly caustic performance.

Nothing else, except the acting, can be added to the highlights column for this movie. Much like the protagonist, the movie is sleepwalking through its plot. Not much excitement can be found in the planning and execution of the heist, because this is not a heist movie. Then there are the moments of comedy, which you can feel are there, but it's like the director refuses to use them properly, prefering instead to toy with the abstract. The romance sort of works, but it's hard to really care about these characters. At times it feels like they're not actually inhabiting our reality. And since we can't fully understand the character's motivations, the movie never quite works. But, in the end, it's an acceptable independent flick that gets enough things right to warrant a single viewing.