by director Malcolm Venville
When I first read Henry’s Crime, I was reminded of movies I love and admire by Frank Capra, Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. Actors like Barbara Stanwyck could light up a scene (in The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity, especially) and I’d always had a soft spot for Carole Lombard because she was goofy and beautiful—what a perfect combination. Leading actresses back then were tough women you wouldn’t dare to cross but now there’s Vera Farmiga. I couldn’t believe my ears when I got a call from Vera saying she wanted to play Julie Ivanova in Henry’s Crime. Watching her in The Departed was like a hand came out of the screen and smacked me in the face.
I’d been fascinated with Keanu Reeves’s performances over the years so I was excited to work with him. He nurtured the script and the film’s condition today is largely because of his unremitting support for me, especially in the final stages where an independent movie is so vulnerable. The robbery in Henry’s Crime will never compare to Rififi or Sexy Beast but that never mattered. What did matter was the quality of feelings between the three leads. That was the core of the movie. I saw Henry’s Crime as a fable about a somnambulist, suddenly woken from a dreamless life, only to plunge into complex human relationships. Here was a man who spent every day sitting in a small room and never had a feeling. I loved Henry because having no feelings seemed an attractive idea. It was bleak, black and funny.
The humour of the movie has a tone that’s low frequency with a subdued cadence. James Caan’s terrific sense of comedy was crucial to creating this tone. But beneath all that was the emotional challenge of the movie. For me, it was to portray the struggle of three misshapen characters comprehending the vicissitudes of their lives.
There’s a twisted little homily in Henry’s Crime where an existential toll booth attendant, while robbing a bank, can re-write Chekhov. I’m grateful to Sacha Gervais for effortlessly incorporating The Cherry Orchard into the script as I happen to love movies about actors, especially Withnail and I. I also love rehearsal scenes, so letting Peter Stormare rant at his full bent at Vera was incredibly good fun.
I’d always thought I was allergic to happy endings, growing up in England watching Allan Clarke and Dennis Potter’s TV work, but as I discovered in the making of Henry’s Crime, I desperately need them.