52 Movies: Week 4
Henry’s Crime is a lighthearted crime caper with a real sense of place.
Or perhaps Henry’s Crime is a romantic comedy? Director Malcolm Venville’s first feature film was 44 Inch Chest, a crime movie reuniting the writers and some of the cast of 2000’s incredible movie Sexy Beast. As a crime movie, Henry’s Crime is all together too good natured but, as a romantic comedy, it’s a step above what you might find in the genre.
Henry’s Crime is the story of Henry Thorne, (Keanu Reaves), a man whose passive approach to life has led him to a loveless marriage, a dead-end job and, ultimately, to prison for a crime he did not commit. While in prison, Henry befriends Max Saltzman, (James Caan), a conman perfectly content to live out the rest of his life behind bars where all his decisions are made for him. Following his release, the aimless Henry finally develops a goal in life — To rob the bank he did not rob previously. Henry’s motivation is not money or revenge but simply to become an active participant in his own life.
The ensuing heist requires Henry to take a role in a local production of a Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard where a romantic entanglement with the lead actress (Vera Farmiga) further awakens Henry and forces him to make some tough decisions.
If we were to consider this a crime film, I would be damning it with faint praise by saying it was cute, however, if we consider it a romantic comedy cute is entirely complimentary so let’s consider it a romantic comedy! James Caan and Vera Farmiga are great as ever in their respective roles, (though I wondered if poor Vera Farmiga was cast to type when her character, struggling with criticisms of her acting, exclaims, “All my life, people have told me I’m cold.”) I admit to having a soft spot for Keanu Reeves, though it is perhaps telling that I found his character to be far more compelling at the beginning of the movie when he was a pathologically passive cipher. While his characters arc is central to the story, he becomes less and less interesting as the movie progresses.
More impressive than the relatively straight-forward plot was the way in which Malcolm Venville captures something essential about the city of Buffalo in this movie. I’ve never been to Buffalo myself so I can’t speak to the veracity of what he conveys about the city but the movie has a great blue collar feel to it which is entirely appropriate to its characters and lends a lot of credibility to the procedings. Additionally, the movie has a fantastic sound track including tracks by The Budos Band and Sharon & The Dap Kings.
Henry’s Crime may not be a great movie but I enjoyed it very much. There is nothing groundbreaking here but it is a good story, well told with intelligence and a good-natured spirit. I give it three and a half stars.