Speaking from his judicial experience, Judge Russell Engebretson believes it wiser to not do the time or the crime.
Our review of Henry's Crime, published September 7th, 2011, is also available.
If you've done the time, do the crime.
Henry's Crime is a romantic comedy, a light drama, and a crime caper, all overlaid with a veneer of independent film quirkiness.
Facts of the Case
Henry Torne (Keanu Reeves, A Scanner Darkly) is a middle-aged toll booth worker. We watch him make his long commute to a modest suburban home in Buffalo, put the best face on his decaying, childless marriage, and generally cruise through his gray existence on autopilot. His life of quiet desperation is massively disrupted when he is falsely implicated in a bank robbery, and inexplicably refuses to reveal the names of the real culprits.
Three years later, after his release from the penitentiary, Henry is inspired to actually commit the crime for which he was accused and imprisoned. He visits his old cellmate, Max Saltzman (James Caan, Thief), and urges him to help with the bank robbery, but Max is perfectly happy—or claims to be—spending his remaining years behind bars. Eventually, against his better judgment, Max agrees and secures his overdue release from the parole board.
As they work out how to dig a tunnel beneath the street to the bank, Henry meets actress Julie Ivanova (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air). Julie is rehearsing the part of Ranyevskaya in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, at a playhouse directly across from the bank that Henry plans to rob—the very structure from which a depression-era, filled-in tunnel needs to be used to accomplish the robbery. Henry's plans are immensely complicated by a romantic entanglement with Julie and later unexpected encounters with former criminal elements.
Whether playing a super hero or a weary working class drone, Keanu Reeves brings an everyman aura to his roles. His approach may be somewhat vanilla, but his anti-showboat acting method allows his fellow actors ample room to display their thespian skills.
There is some shining talent on display in Henry's Crime. James Caan is wonderfully cast as the elderly ex-con, with his prickly, world-weary sarcasm providing a fine foil to Reeves' gentle, slightly bewildered characterization. Vera Farmiga is pitch perfect in the role of an actress who sees her chances of stardom—or even modest success—slipping away with each passing year. It's a delight to see her initially pinched, dour countenance soften into glowing repose as her romance with Henry progresses.
The supporting cast is uniformly excellent: Bill Duke (Deep Cover, director) as a disgruntled bank security guard; Fisher Stevens (Lost) as a slimy, backstabbing thief; and Peter Stormare (Constantine) as the intensely passionate, semi-hysterical stage director. All the performances are exemplary.
The story is a bit contrived, as with all romantic comedy/dramas, but also quite clever. The Chekhovian themes of betrayal, age, and dashed dreams are easy to see, as lines and partial scenes from The Cherry Orchard are quoted and plainly imbedded within the film's plot. Even with its serious undercurrent, the movie never gives itself over to a heavily dramatic interpretation of events. It maintains a thoughtful but easygoing comedic tone. The finale is open-ended in that it neither takes the easy route of an inauthentic feel-good ending nor a bitterly pseudo-realistic denouement.
The 1080p transfer displays good contrast, decent shadow detail, and occasionally vivid colors (although it's an overall subdued color pallet). I did not detect edge-enhancement, DNR, or any glaring artifacts. The DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers crystal clear dialogue and sound effects, with some minor use of the surround speakers. There are no extras whatsoever, which is really a shame. A director's commentary and a few short interviews with cast and crew would have been a nice addition to the disc.
Henry's Crime is not the bland, uninspired stew I was half-expecting. Michael Venville's direction is steady and sure; the cinematography smooth and naturalistic. Despite the film's basically light, breezy feel, there are some serious themes lurking in the background concerning aging and life choices. I was left with the impression that the director and writer knew very well what the picture was about thematically and story-wise, and knew how to present their ideas in a coherent and entertaining fashion. What could have been a screwball comedy or straight-ahead caper movie is handled with a much more subtle touch. It won't appeal to a broad audience, but if the foregoing description tickles your fancy you may find this slightly serious romantic comedy at least worth a rental.
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