An oddball blend of crime tale and backstage comedy, Henry's Crime is a deadpan delight, an unexpected treat that offers the fire-and-ice teaming of Keanu Reeves and Vera Farmiga -- as well as Reeves and James Caan.
Reeves is Henry Torne (and that name wasn't chosen for nothing), a toll-taker in a dead-end job whose life isn't going anywhere either. He lives in Buffalo (again, a deliberate choice) with his long-time girlfriend Deb (Judy Greer), who grabs him when he comes home from work one day for "the talk" -- and is in the middle of a discussion about wanting kids when there's a knock on the door.
It's not opportunity knocking, however -- just an old acquaintance named Eddie (Fisher Stevens), who wants Eddie to fill in for an upchucking pal named Joe (Danny Hoch) in a softball game. Never mind that it's November.
In fact, Eddie is the leader of a group that's about to rob a bank -- but the only one who gets nabbed is Henry, brought along to drive the getaway car without really knowing it. When Henry refuses to talk to the police about his confederates (out of some misguided sense of loyalty), he winds up with three years in prison. Deb dumps him, but he does make friends with his cellmate, a lifer named Max (James Caan).
Max points out that Henry has never had a dream to guide him. He also brings it to Henry's attention that, while he is doing the time, he never actually committed a crime. When Henry is released from prison, he discovers his dream: He will rob the bank he went to jail for robbing.
But it happens with more wit than that: He's crossing the street in front of the bank when he's hit by a car, driven by Julie (Farmiga), an actress who is rehearsing a production of The Cherry Orchard in the theater next door to the bank. She helps him up and into a café -- and in the café bathroom, Henry sees a framed story about a Prohibition-era raid, in which police discovered a tunnel between the theater and the bank, one that connected a speakeasy with the vault, where the illegal booze was kept.
So he convinces Max to actually try for parole (Max is actually quite comfortable in the pen) to help him pull the job. The two of them start hanging around the theater and, before long, Henry has been cast as Lopakhin, he's romancing Julie and Max is working as a volunteer -- as a cover for digging out the filled-in tunnel to get at the vault.
The contrast between the taciturn Reeves and the hyper Farmiga (whose claim to fame in the film is a cheesy commercial for a local lottery called Buffalotto) strikes comic sparks. Farmiga has a short fuse, a frenetic quality that plays off Reeves' quiet Henry, who is stolid without being stupid.
There's also solid humor in the blend of Caan and the theatrical crew. A con man, Max convinces the stage manager (Currie Graham) of the fact that he's got a history with the theater building itself; his riffs flow like water. For good measure, Peter Stormare is on hand as the self-important director, whose tyranny causes Farmiga's Julie to erupt comically.
Henry's Crime has a nicely understated script by Sacha Gervasi (who directed Anvil! The Story of Anvil!) and sure-handed direction by Malcolm Venville. It's not a movie that threatens to set the world on fire. But it is satisfying and entertaining in ways that too few big-budget films (Arthur? Your Highness?) seem to know how to achieve.
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