Hank Robs Bank, by Matt Warren
Charlie Sheen may be getting a lot of press these days for his tiger blood assisted inkillability, but as far as marginally-talented, ethnically ambiguous pretty boys from the 1980s go, no one beats Keanu Reeves. No other actor has aged less visibly over a four-decade onscreen career, or done so little to challenge peoples’ perception of their abilities and limitations. Even the ever-youthful Johnny Depp has made a career out of contorting himself into increasingly bizarre characterizations, and has spent the better part of my lifetime cultivating a civilian persona best described as a sort of rakish gypsy man-lizard. But Reeves always looks the same. Same weight, same haircut. Same blank stare looking off into the void. It’s the look of a man who’s forever getting away with something and doesn’t even realize it. It’s the “Keanu Reeves” look.
As an actor, Reeves is maddeningly, robotically consistent. You, the viewer, know exactly what you’re getting into with him, and you learn to adjust your expectations accordingly. I never look forward to watching Keanu Reeves, but I can honestly say he’s never actually ruined a movie for me. And rather than wear thin, his blithely oblivious screen presence has only made him more enduring. It’s been 20+ years since Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and we’ve reached the point as a society where we just sort of take it for granted that, yeah, the Keanu Reeves is gonna pop up as the lead in a movie every now and then, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s just a fact of life, like ATM fees, or bursting into tears in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.
Reeves’ latest is Henry’s Crime, directed by Malcolm Venville, who previously helmed the 2009 British crime drama 44 Inch Chest, and the plot is your typical rom-com crime caper fluff. Boy (the titular Henry, played by Reeves) meets girl. Boy married girl. Boy is tricked by unscrupulous softball associates into driving the getaway car during a failed bank robbery. Boy gets caught, goes to prison. Boy befriends Wizened Old Jailbird (James Caan) who claims to be more comfortable behind bars than as a free man on the outside. Girl divorces boy. Boy gets paroled. Boy decides to balance his karmic debt, reverse “My Name is Earl”-style, by returning home to Buffalo to rob the exact same bank he got sent up the river for supposedly trying to knock over. Boy discovers a subterranean, Prohibition-era bootleggers’ tunnel running from the bank vault to the community theater next door. Wizened Jailbird makes parole, decides to help. Boy gets lead role in theater’s production of Chekov’s The Seagull. Boy falls in love with lead actress (Vera Farminga.) Boy must chose between the girl and the play, or the heist. Boy wears hilarious fake beard.
I know what you’re thinking. Another Chekov-themed neo-noir rom-com dramedy? Wasn’t Katherine Heigl in, like, eight of these last year? Why, I bet if you piled every Chekov-themed neo-noir rom-com dramedy one on top of another, they’d reach into the heavens and blot out the sun, casting the planet into permanent dark, creating a nightmare world of everlasting night where the blind, with their more fully developed ancillary senses, would at last rise up to enslave their sighted oppressors, the rest of us discovering, sadly, that 20/20 vision is of little use when most of your blood is on the outside of your body. Actually, never mind. I guess the film does have sort of a novel premise.
But unfortunately, Henry’s Crime never quite comes together. Which is a shame, because you can see the potential. But as is, what makes it to screen feels like a first draft. Subplots wheeze to a close without any satisfying end, or else just disappear completely, and important major characters are left painfully underdeveloped. Caan’s Max, especially, is a missed opportunity. If there’s any actor suited to take on the archetype of the veteran prisoner uncomfortable with life on the outside, it’s Caan, but the only thing he’s given to play is a superficial desire to retire to Florida, and his character isn’t working toward any sort of larger emotional goal, either consciously or subconsciously. Max should be the film’s heart—its Sam the Lion—but there’s only so much an actor (even one like Caan) can do to inject substance into what is, disappointingly, merely the outline of a potentially better character.
Faring much better is Vera Farmiga as Reeves’ love interest Julie, the lead actress of the Buffalo Players’ production of The Cherry Orchid. Here, Farmiga continues her reign as one of the most reliably charming female actors working today. She’s the thinking man’s crush object, and Henry’s Crime gives her plenty of opportunities to be totally adorable. You just want to put on your pajamas and cuddle up on the couch with her, watch old movies, giggle, and eat ice cream. And with Julie, she successfully captures the kind of outgoing, neurotic energy that’s a natural part of all professional performers’ demonstrative behavior without ever being too annoying or undercutting the character’s intelligence. She still has sort of weird eyebrows, though.
One of Henry’s Crime’s biggest failings is Venville’s inability to find the correct tone. The writing and directing often seem to be working against each other. It’s just speculation on my part, but my guess is that writers Sacha Gervasi and David White were probably aiming for something a lot more lighthearted than the leaden muddle delivered by Venville. They were thinking Bottle Rocket-meets-A Fish Called Wanda, Venville was thinking Anton Corbijn’s Control. Don’t get me wrong, on a purely aesthetic level Henry’s Crime looks great. The shots are masterfully photographed, with careful composition and lighting. But this material doesn’t call for tableaux—it calls for frenetic, door-slamming farce. Get the camera off those sticks and move around a little. And while you’re at it, maybe cut the film together a bit faster. Directors like Edgar Wright have shown us just how much humor can be wrung out of some clever blocking and a few well-timed cuts, so get in there and try to unlock this film’s full potential.
Henry’s Crime is a film of missed opportunities. I know this review came off a little negative, but it’s not a bad film by any stretch. If you’re at all intrigued by the plot or by the actors involved it’s certainly worth adding to your Netflix queue. But when a film makes so clear how much better it could’ve been, it’s difficult not to let your disappointment and frustration steer your thoughts toward the negative. Henry’s Crime may be trying to do something unique, but a failure is still a failure.