HENRY’S CRIME (Malcolm Venville, 2010)

Keanu Reeves is a student of Russian literature; presumably, he is one of the producers of Henry’s Crime, and its star, for the opportunity it gives him, as Henry Torne, to play scenes as Yermolai Lopakhin in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Reeves’s casting also provides an in-joke; Reeves is a Method actor, and The Cherry Orchard (1904) was originally directed by Stanislavski, the originator of “the Method.” In the shards and glints of Chekhov’s last play that we see in rehearsals and opening-night performance by a local theater company in Buffalo (the “City of No Illusions” lends tons of forlorn atmosphere to this film), Reeves is intriguing and electric; but what about him as Henry Torne? This cannot seriously be counted among Reeves’s successful performances.
     Torne is a married in-booth toll collector who, hoodwinked into thinking he is headed to a ballgame as a substitute player, gets arrested and imprisoned (when he won’t name names) as the getaway driver in a bank robbery. Upon release, he plots to rob the bank for real through an old tunnel connecting the theater to the bank. When he falls in love with the actress who has enlisted him to play opposite her in the Chekhov production, however, all bets are off that he will take the money and run.
     For the most part, this is an extremely passive role for Reeves to play; his nuanced portrayal barely registers, and the romantic and sexual passion that supposedly blows apart Henry’s passivity registers least of all. It doesn’t help that Vera Farmiga is loud, obnoxious and revolting as Julie, whose insecurity underneath an aggressive attitude and demeanor seems especially crude and writing-“rigged.” The script by Sacha Gervasi and David White expands on the story by Stephen Hamel and Gervasi.
     Someone named Malcolm Venville directed. I knew it wasn’t Stanislavski.

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