By Brian Lafferty
May 20, 2011 (San Diego) – There are terrible bad movies and there are good bad movies. The worst bad movies are devoid of any ambition. Those tend to be the most offensive. With good bad movies, I at least get the sense that the filmmakers tried to make a good movie, even if they didn’t succeed.
Henry’s Crime falls into the good bad movie category. The overplotted script is full of heist movie clichés and the filmmakers try to spice the film up with a forced romance. A lot of the time the characters and their actions don’t make any sense.
A lot of this would be unacceptable under normal circumstances but there is always an exception to the rule. This film is the exception. There’s something inherent in this movie that makes what would normally be inexcusable excusable. It’s not just that a lot of effort was put into it. It’s also the film’s atmosphere and tone.
Keanu Reeves plays Henry, a tollbooth operator living a stolid life with a wife he can’t connect with. His friends trick him into helping them rob a bank by unwittingly providing the getaway car. Henry is caught and sentenced to several years in prison. When he gets out he decides to rob the bank for real. In the meantime he falls for an aspiring actress (Vera Farmiga) of a local play, the building of which is adjacent to the bank.
What is so ambitious about this movie? I’ll begin with the acting. Keanu Reeves plays his role in a way that reminded me of Stellan Skarsgård in A Somewhat Gentle Man. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same timing as Skarsgård; in fact, he comes off as a bore a lot of the time. He delivers his lines in a stilted, awkward manner that in most movies would be inexcusable but in this case it works for the wrong reasons.
Juxtaposed with somewhat surreal effect is James Caan’s on-the-nose timing and zealous performance as Max. Caan really gets into his role as the confidence man Henry befriends in prison and hires to help in the heist. He brings a lot of barely-restrained energy into his performance. The screenwriters feed him the best lines.
The movie tries to create a smart and clever script but it doesn’t succeed in the way the filmmakers intended. The story is surprisingly complex, ambitious, and a bit overplotted. The screenwriters had a great idea weaving the heist with the play. In the end they sink their teeth into more than they can chomp. Although it isn’t as successful and it ends up a letdown, I wasn’t bored. I could not help but admire the ambition of the director and the screenwriters.
The ambition doesn’t end with the script and acting. It continues with the palette. The movie is set in Buffalo during the wintertime. Cinematographer Paul Cameron utilizes cool colors, mostly blues, and a gritty, sleety, asphalt-like image to visually communicate the frosty, bleak, and urban environment.
The great film critic Pauline Kael once said, “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” That quote ran through my head a few times while I was watching Henry’s Crime. Here is a movie that is bad but unlike most terrible Hollywood fare, it is enjoyably bad. I didn’t like it but I’m glad I saw it.
Henry’s Crime is currently playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
A Moving Pictures release. Director: Malcolm Venville. Screenplay: Stephen Hamel and Sacha Gervasi (story), Sacha Gervasi and David White (screenplay), Cinematography: Paul Cameron. Cast: Keanu Reeves, James Caan, Vera Farmiga, Fisher Stevens, Judy Greer. 108 minutes. Rated R.