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06 May 2006

Keane (2004)

Damian Lewis (William Keane), Abigail Breslin (Kira), Amy Ryan (Lynn)

Directed by Lodge H. Kerrigan

From IMDB: "Keane, a man in his early 30s, struggles with the loss of his daughter from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York while fighting serious battles with schizophrenia. We can never be sure if the loss is real or imaginary, nor whether his overt interest in helping young girls is innocent - of a fatherly nature - or of a darker motive."

Lewis as Keane

Ten adjectives to describe Damian Lewis as Major Winters in "Band of Brothers": strong, brave, moral, incorruptible, intelligent, sober, charismatic, trusted, selfless, thoughtful.

Ten adjectives to describe Damian Lewis as William Keane: awkward, unbalanced, hesitant, confused, deceptive, lost, self-indulgent, pained, suffering, fallen.

The man, Damian Lewis, must exist somewhere between these two extremes of hero and schizophrenic, (only with a British accent as opposed to the two Americans described above), but the portrayal of each is remarkable. I fell in (movie) love with Lewis as Winters, but Lewis as Keane engendered alternating feelings of pity, fear, and despair.

Inhabiting Keane, Lewis held nothing back. Some scenes were nearly embarrassing for their stark, unblinking examination of a man literally out of his mind. Other moments were less riotous. At one point, when Keane takes his neighbor's daughter, Kira, ice skating, he appears momentarily content and almost lively. The emotions are short-lived. Somehow, Lewis was able to physically convey a shift of mental presence as Keane slipped away from reality - a glace over his shoulder, a quick flick of his pale eyes, the more exaggerated slope of his shoulders. Then, as if he had never been a lucid individual, he loses his grip altogether and becomes the crying child to Kira's concerned caregiver.

Lewis's performance is a soliloquy that balances madness with normalcy, shying away from obvious, mocking or condescending images of a schizophrenic. Kerrigan's direction, particularly the camera work, added to Lewis's portrayal in that almost every shot of Keane is in profile (I noticed because he has such a great profile), the result of which is that we - the audience - walk beside Keane as his observers. We are startlingly close to the source of this man's problems - his mind. That is he is not allowed to look us in the eye creates an artificial distance from Keane the Human, emphasizing his isolation and the sense that he is someone to be watched. In long, lingering studies of his face, I found myself wondering what Keane was thinking, a trick that might not have been so successful had he looked directly into the camera.

That said... I agree, reluctantly, with something Keven said: No matter how well Damian Lewis plays all manner of interesting, unusual, unbalanced, or creepy characters, we just want to see more of his Major Winters. It's true. He really was the most inspiring, noble, likeable hero, and I would certainly enjoy more of that. Perhaps "Band of Brothers II: The 101st Comes Home to New Jersey." Then again, I have been waiting in vain for Ralph Fiennes to revive Almásy for The English Patient's Ghost.

A Tale of Two Movies

Executive producer Stephen Soderbergh re-cut this film, taking all of the puzzle piece scenes and shuffling them into a new arc of events, the entirety of which can be seen on the DVD extras. Film students should go nutty over this because it is really the equivalent of someone rearranging Memento into a chronological sequence. What kind of movie would result? Something dull, trite, normal? Something that reveals the wizard's ultimate lack of originality?

In the case of Keane, Soderbergh's version made me realize two things, one related to the actual plot and one related to cinematic storytelling. With regard to storytelling, the order in which information is presented to an audience has the ability to create radically different results. Soderbergh's version is more linear and introduces Kira and her mother within the first ten minutes. Because of this early introduction, every subsequent scene - which had been ambiguous in Kerrigan's film when mother and daughter are not presented until 40+ minutes in - is solidified and colored by their presence in the reality of the film's narrative, not just in Keane's mind.

Kerrigan, by withholding the introduction of characters other than Keane until so late in the film, firmly weds our reality with that of Keane. We know only what he knows. His references to a woman (his ex?) and their child (his missing daughter?), as well as his many opaque conversations, are all left open to countless interpretations because we have no corroborating evidence and must take Keane at face value. Soderbergh's version created a storyline with no ambiguity; the performance - the deep claustrophobia of life inside Keane's head - remains, but the confusion about his actions and motives is erased. I preferred Kerrigan's final cut, which is wide open to speculation.

As for the effect of Soderbergh's re-cut on my understanding of the plot, I came to appreciate just how complex the final version is. Keane is crazy, literally, so how trustworthy is he to discernibly guide us through this narrative? Not very. The director's vision emphasizes Keane's unreliability because the sequence of events, as presented, is also unreliable. (But Soderbergh's attempt did help me cheat and understand what "really" happened.)

Did I like the film? Eh... hard... head hurting. I don't think so, primarily because Keane's desperation and loneliness were so affecting. However, I appreciated Keane a great deal as a movie that should be watched, admired, debated, and studied. Ultimately, no single interpretation can be relied upon as definitive.

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