Sunday, 11 February 2007

Keane (2004)


There is something incredibly depressing about the fact that this film took more than a year to eventually surface in American cinemas and another year after that before it was able to secure a theatrical release in the UK (which it did - not that you'd have noticed - right at the tail end of 2006). Despite universally favourable reviews, and Stephen Soderbergh's name the box office figures show just how tough it is to make independent films these days.

And it's not just Keane which suffers from this problem. Later today I'll be reviewing another excellent film, Snow Cake, which despite having high-calibre actors and household names like Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver appearing in it, appears to have suffered a similar fate when it comes to turning a profit. Even when the costs are astonishingly low and the quality and the rave critical reviews are all over the quality media, it seems the audience isn't. Only dumbed-down roller-coaster movie rides are what pulls people into cinema's these days, and that's a very depressing thought to start the day on.

I write this blog entry on the morning that this year's BAFTA awards are to be announced. It used to be that award ceremonies were there to help 'the little guy' and gain visibility for quality films that might otherwise get unnoticed. I think Daniel Craig is one of our finest actors, but a high profile picture like Casino Royale barely scratches the surface of his talent, and hardly needs the publicity the award ceremony gives him. The same handful of films get nominated at each and every ceremony - BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the Oscars - is ANYBODY able to tell the difference between these different 'popularity contests's any more??!! It's a crying shame that the best performances and films are getting shamelessly ignored in favour of the same small handful of films that have already performed well at the box office.

Keane screencap

Not that I'm saying Keane is an oscar-winning film. It's too 'art house' and lacking in real narrative structure for that. But I don't think anybody could deny that Damian Lewis' performance is anything less than world class. Playing a troubled loner with serious mental problems is not easy. Making that character sympathetic and conveying the pain and misery of mental illness, in the way the actor does in Keane, is nothing short of astounding. That Lewis is such an astonishing actor comes as something of a shock to those of us who've only seen him as a guest presenter - an incredibly witty and professional one, it must be said - on BBC 1's Have I Got News For You. And him being a 'ginge' and all. Who'd a thunk!

As the film opens Lewis plays Keane, a father clearly in some distress, trying to find his lost daughter. As the film moves on, and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, doubts start to emerge. Does the man actually have a daughter? Did she really go missing? What is the nature of Keane's obvious illness, for which he is self-medicating, and does it hold danger for the young girl and single mother he befriends?

Keane screencap

Not all these questions will be answered by the end of the film, but there is hope here. Hope and an insight into mental illness that this viewer has never seen so well portrayed on film. The hand-held nature of the filming, and obvious low budget approach may turn some viewers away, but the suspense is built up such that spends most of the journey the film takes you on, sat on the edge of one's seat, wondering how the various bits of puzzle presented fit together, and how the puzzle will resolve itself.

As in real life, the puzzle doesn't really resolve itself, and was never meant to. An alternate edit of Lodge Kerrigan's film, by producer Steven Soderbergh shows how different clues can be interpreted completely differently if the linear structure of the scenes is changed. Soderbergh's edit, included as a second disk version on this DVD release, cuts out the introductory 'hook' of the man searching for his lost daughter, and by shifting key scenes around, makes Keane appear to have targeted the mother and child having overheard a conversation which in the theatrical cut occurs after Keane has met them and come to their rescue. It's an interesting exercise in showing the power of the film editor, albeit one that is much better evidenced by studying Memento

Keane is a fascinating film, a film that, unlike Gilliam's Tideland does make you think, and will still have you thinking several days after you've seen it. Awards ceremonies were made to recognise films such as this, and it's a great shame that they don't!

Keane screencap

The double-disk 'Collector's Edition' title is confusing, and frankly the DVD set turns out to be a major disappointment on the extra's front. There's nothing to see here other than a trailer. No commentary, no deleted scenes, no 'Making of' featurette, not even a cheap and nasty Q&A session with the lead actor snatched during a coffee break! Instead one gets a second cut of the film which, in all honesty, will only be of interest to film students and wannabe editors. The guerilla approach to film-making adopted here means there are no alternate takes to draw on to make this alternate cut interesting enough to view a second time, and the 'fly on the wall' documentary style of the film means it's just not the sort of film you would want to sit through a second time.

The film is a rental, rather than a purchase because of the difficult nature of its subject matter. Its impact significantly lessens once you know where the narrative is going to lead. But it's a very good rental and one that comes highly recommended.

Keane screencap


The Red Queen said...

I like your review. And you are completely right about Casino Royale barely skimming Daniel Craig's vast talent. Keane is a movie which is not easy to figure out, and definitely good mental stimulation. Damian Lewis gives you a fabulous performance. I mean there are times you are scared that William Keane will finally go over the edge and hurt someone. But you never stop sympathising with him. The ending was abrupt but it was necessary. There are no endings in real life. And somehow you can't help feeling (or hoping)that maybe, just maybe Keane will be okay.

Ian said...

Thanks. If you enjoyed Damian Lewis in this then I recommend you check out the under-rated "Chromophobia" - he's very good in that too. No "blog" review as such but I did a video (actually a spoken review over a clip from the film) in the preview edition of the Shiny Discs Show over at