I’d be surprised if anyone sent to prison at the cinema this January was actually guilty. Following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Banks in The Next Three Days and Sam Rockwell in Conviction, Keanu Reeves is Henry, who accidentally becomes an accessory to armed robbery in Henry’s Crime.
While the actual robbers go free, Henry is sentenced to three years in prison. During his sentence, his wife leaves him for the guy he stood in for as unwitting getaway driver, and he spends a miserable time doing porridge, enlivened only by a friendship with veteran prisoner Max, played by James Caan.
He makes parole after one year behind bars, with a plan in mind. If he did the time, he might as well have done the crime, and so he resolves to rob the same bank he just spent time in prison for not robbing. Slight moral fuzziness there, but hey, it’s an interesting enough premise for an unorthodox revenge caper.
The mildness of touch actually works in favour of Henry’s Crime, except in the casting of Keanu Reeves. I’ve heard it said that there’s no Keanu Reeves film that wouldn’t be better if Keanu Reeves wasn’t in it. I’d make an exception for his two most iconic characters, Theodore Logan from Bill And Ted and Neo from The Matrix, but otherwise, that does pretty much hold up.
Reeves, in this film, is so mild that it’s impossible to really connect with Henry as much as you might if anyone else were playing that role. What it calls for is an everyman along the lines of Tom Hanks or James Stewart, but obviously younger and still alive. The problem is, what Hollywood thinks when you say every-man these days is Shia LaBeouf, and that would be a lot worse.
What Reeves brings to the role is kind of disaffecting, though. The mildness of touch turns into an actual distance from what’s going on. An everyman could pull off the early scenes in which Henry gives his estranged wife his blessing to carry on with someone else, as long as she’s happy. With Reeves, it just seems like he was never really interested in her at all.
Vera Farmiga fares slightly better as the new love interest for Henry, who’s presumably won over by his lack of any real expression when she meets him by accidentally running him over in her car. However, although she’s not miscast like Reeves, she is channelling Joan Cusack, which kind of embellishes the notion that director Malcolm Venville, who last gave us the hyper-sweary British drama, 44 Inch Chest, was on a different page to everyone else.
Look at the other credits on the film. Sacha Gervasi co-wrote the script, and previously directed Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, which told an arresting story about an unusual subject, and whose heavy metal output I like less than I like the people themselves. But Gervasi also co-wrote The Terminal, a latter-day guilty pleasure from Steven Spielberg that starred, oh look, Tom Hanks.
Quibbles about the casting aside, kudos must be given for the best performance in the film, which comes from James Caan. The guy’s a master of his trade, and with this, he strikes just the right balance between taking it seriously and having fun. He plays Max as a confidence man who’s skilled in performance, which only shows up Reeves even more.
Not that the script itself doesn’t do that enough on its own, because at one point, the entire climax of the film becomes contingent on Henry’s ability to act. So, just to give you an overview of that Jenga tower of circumstance, that means we have to watch Keanu Reeves trying to act as a character who’s trying to act.
Credit where it’s due, calling Reeves a wooden block means that he fits into that Jenga construction pretty well, and Henry’s Crime doesn’t fall down, even with that seemingly major problem at its heart. It’s perfectly serviceable, and even though there’s more than a passing hint of what might have been with a stronger and more likeable lead, it’s still an enjoyable watch.
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