by Allan Hunter
Dir: Malcolm Venville. US. 2010. 108mins
Malcolm Venville caught the eye as the director of the ferociously foul-mouthed thriller 44 Inch Chest that swaggered on to the screen with the manner of a Quentin Tarantino film written by Harold Pinter in a sour mood. Henry’s Crime wrong foots any expectations that it will provide more of the same.
This laidback, low-key romantic caper feels more like Big Deal On Madonna Street as re-written by Woody Allen, except Allen beat him to the punch with Small Time Crooks. Unsurprising and overlong, it ambles along perfectly pleasantly and benefits from the commendable efforts of a strong ensemble cast. The question remains of whether there is space in the theatrical marketplace for a nice little, old-fashioned romantic thriller that ultimately revolves around a production of The Cherry Orchard.
Keanu Reeves is well cast if a little old for the role of Henry, a terminally diffident fellow sleepwalking through life until he inadvertently becomes the getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers. Sentenced to three years in prison, he develops a friendship with philosophical old lag Max (Caan) who encourages him to pursue his dream.
On his release, Henry decides that his dream is to rob the bank that he didn’t rob before via a tunnel that runs between a local theatre and the vault. When actress Julie (Farmiga) accidentally runs him over, it leads to a romance and acting novice Henry joining the cast of The Cherry Orchard. The notion that Equity might object to his presence is never an issue and one of many throwaway plot elements that carry little conviction.
Sacha Gervasi and David White’s script provides some mild comic moments and interesting characters but their plotting is completely predictable with the audience able to second-guess all the twists and turns. Venville doesn’t quite stamp his authority on the material, never finding the snappy rhythm that might have injected more snap and crackle into the proceedings.
The wintry setting in Buffalo New York and the shadowy textures of Paul Cameron’s moody cinematography seem more in keeping with a straightforward crime thriller and create a dour mood that seems to work against the frothy nature of the piece.
The film does boast some delightful performances. Peter Stormare provides some laughs as impossible, high-strung theatre director Darek and Vera Farmiga continues to underline her range with a comic performance showing that she would make an excellent addition to Woody Allen’s ensemble casts. Best of all is a scene-stealing James Caan in one of the best roles he has been given in a very long while. His genial con man is a charmer and the actor plays him with a real sparkle.
The chance to see these actors in this kind of lightweight fare is one of the main pleasures of the otherwise unremarkable Henry’s Crime.