The casting and plot of Henry’s Crime suggest a summer action-thriller blockbuster: Keanu Reeves stars as a hapless schlub accused of a bank robbery he didn’t commit, so upon his release from prison, he sets out to redeem the wasted period of his life with a daring heist on the same bank. (The catchphrase “If you’ve done the time, do the crime” features repeatedly.) But the script suggests something entirely different: an anomie-filled, melancholy little drama about a man adrift, looking to others for guidance, and finding he can help them in return. With the right casting and direction, this could have been a touching indie on par with Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor. Failing that, with a much bigger budget and intense pacing, it could have at least competed with The Town as a personally inflected take on a common cinematic crime.
Instead, it’s a grating muddle, typified by Reeves as a protagonist who’s so frustratingly vapid that even the other characters seem baffled at his blankness. As the eponymous Henry, Reeves makes a series of dramatic, life-altering choices, yet he seems so sleepy and vacant that it’s impossible to tell whether he’s supposed to come off as crafty or just too dumb to understand the consequences of his actions. He offers precious few hints either way, even when directly questioned by his new love interest, a volatile, self-absorbed, secretly fragile stage actress played with a great deal of verve but not much appeal by Vera Farmiga. When Reeves finally reveals what’s going on in his head, there isn’t enough there for it to feel like the payoff to a mystery; it’s more a weak shrug of an explanation that suggests Henry’s Crime has no idea where it’s going.
Instead, it has a busy cast of hard-charging ringers, including Farmiga, the oily Fisher Stevens as the would-be bank-robber who gets Reeves into trouble, Peter Stormare as a demanding stage director who repeatedly shouts out the film’s themes, and James Caan as a good-natured prison lifer who lets Reeves badger him into participating in the heist. A few scenes between various combinations of these characters display a lively, crackling tension that the rest of the film lacks; so does the stylish soundtrack, which is heavy on The Budos Band and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. But Reeves is a inert lump at the story’s center, and the script does him no favors, either by concealing his character’s intentions for most of the movie, or by casting him in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and expecting him to come across as a man with hidden soul. Far too much of Henry’s Crime relies on eye-rolling contrivance or coincidence (of course the only possible window for the heist is on the opening night of Reeves and Farmiga’s Cherry Orchard production), and the rest of it relies on Reeves’ ability to suggest a complex, layered inner life and deep realms of acting talent. Viewers might forgive the former, but there’s no compensating for the lack of the latter.