TIFF: Keanu Reeves grapples with the absurd in Henry’s Crime
By Katherine Monk, Postmedia News September 15, 2010
TORONTO — Keanu Reeves bristles visibly at the word “celebrity” — and for good reason. The word is shiny but empty: a signifier of all things we celebrate on the very surface of reality without plumbing the depths of experience.
For an actor, there could hardly be a bigger insult, because performance without depth is meaningless — unless, of course, you’re making a movie about a man who’s stuck somewhere between thinking and not thinking, feeling and not feeling, being and not being.
Such is the role Reeves plays in his latest film, Henry’s Crime, which recently had its world premiere here at the Toronto International Film Festival. A comic heist movie with absurdist tendencies, Henry’s Crime features Reeves in the role of Henry, a tollbooth attendant living a rather Kafkaesque existence in Buffalo.
At the top of the reel, Henry is asked to participate in a softball game. When he looks at the snow outside, remarking that it’s November, he still refuses to see how he’s being played for a Patsy — and ends up driving a car to a bank robbery.
Henry is numb, but after his stint in the slammer, he emerges a different man and decides to rob the bank again, only this time, for real.
Reeves is clearly looking to switch things up a little since recording box-office records on The Matrix trilogy, and Henry’s Crime is just the latest waypoint in the actor’s continuing adventure. Reeves not only stars in the movie, he also had a significant role in bringing it to the screen as its producer.
“Every film needs a champion, and on this one, I was certainly one of the ones who tried to get this film made,” says Reeves, sitting down in the middle of a hotel bar humming with heavyweight talent.
“I really liked this script. That’s why I wanted to see it made, because I liked the idea of a guy who is neither asleep nor awake. Henry is kind of removed from the whole experience of being alive until he goes to jail,” he says.
Henry essentially goes to prison to escape the jail sentence of his married life, but when he gets out, everything changes. He meets an old con man (James Caan) and an aspiring actress (Vera Farmiga), and enlists their help in his plot to rob the bank via an old tunnel built by bootleggers.
“The plot is preposterous,” says Reeves as he describes the essential narrative. “I mean, there’s a prohibition tunnel! And the only way you can get into the tunnel is if you play Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard?! That is preposterous. But that’s what I loved about it. I thought that was awesome.”
Reeves says he was so taken with the craziness of it, he helped Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil!) work on the script and hone the content until Malcolm Venville stepped in to direct Reeves and co-stars Vera Farmiga and James Caan.
Reeves says he was drawn to Venville, a relatively unknown English director, because he spoke a lot about passion in their first meeting.
“(Venville) kept describing the script as emotional. I was drawn to that, and so I spent a couple of weeks working on the script and he really had this baseline feeling and understanding for the characters. He’s got a lot of sympathy and empathy. He had a very soulful reaction to all of these characters, because he recognized they were all trapped.”
Reeves says he doesn’t feel trapped, necessarily, by notions of celebrity or his public image, but he is eager to work with a variety of different people on truly creative projects. He even mentions David Cronenberg as a possible collaborator: “Hear that, David? Hire me!” he says, half-joking, half not.
The proof of Reeves’s desire for professional transformation is evident in the movie itself, as he not only takes on production duties — a big job for a title that came to the festival looking for a sale — but he also threw himself into the role of a complete cipher.
“I think what I loved about it was how Henry doesn’t just change his own life; his presence changes the lives of the other people around him. He activates them by trying to rob a bank,” says Reeves.
I wonder if Keanu would like the show. As I talk more about the show with potential audience members and during a recent interview I was asked if Keanu knows about the show – rather, if I’ve tried to tell his people who might tell him about it. I said I didn’t think so and I wasn’t sure I wanted that – after all, he might assume that I am taking the piss, having a laugh at his expense. Meanwhile, he might be impressed with my knowledge of his work and may even enjoy that “How Keanu Reeves Saved the World” also grapples with the absurd.
Looking forward to Henry’s Crime …