Watched Keane today, a remarkably discomforting film, written and directed by Lodge H. Kerrigan, with a central performance by Damian Lewis that defies categorization. It’s a claustrophobic exercise in eliciting viewer paranoia as it chronicles a mentally unstable man (is he manic-schizophrenic or simply a paranoid schizophrenic . . . I don’t own a copy of DSM IV so who knows) who is on the lam, off his meds, and may or may not be responsible for the abduction of a daughter the audience is not even sure ever existed. Lewis’s ability to waver from moments of lucidity to a man fighting the voices raging inside his head is downright frightening (and strangely endearing once you remind yourself the guy won’t crawl through the television), and it is this portrait of a man with whom most of us would avoid eye contact (or even cross the street to stay out of his path . . . the gritty underbelly of midtown Manhattan hasn’t looked so bleak and uninviting for a long time) that occupies the first forty-five minutes of the film. But then William connects with a young mother and her seven-year-old daughter holed up in the low-rent hotel where William lives. It is here that a more conventional plot kicks in and the relationship between Keane and this little girl is thrilling due to the film’s unwillingness to make it easy on the audience. Not for the faint of heart or the overindulgent parent; still, Keane rarely goes where you expect it to go and that makes it a truly fine piece of work.

A note: the disc I received from Netflix includes an alternative cut of the film by Steven Soderbergh that is a good twenty minutes shorter than Kerrigan’s cut. I might encourage you to watch that version as I did feel the first forty-five minutes could have used some judicious editing. All in all, a troubling but powerful film.

3 thoughts on “Keane

  1. Despite considering Soderbergh one of the better editors out there, I watched the full version, and yeah, it gets repetitive – and the longer edit itself is only 90 minutes or so, minus credits.

    Lewis is good, maybe a litttle too clean-shaven and groomed to be as mentally ill as he seems to be; and the hotel they lived in looked frankly a little nicer than the one I stayed in last week.

    AS much as I wanted to like this film, I don’t know if I really do. There are so many medium close-ups of Lewis’ face; shot after shot. And I understand the director’s decision to do that: trying to portray the chaos inside his head, but I don’t think it really worked. I just got tired of seeing every little facet of the guy’s face over and over again. Even the scene at the skating rink, which is the crux of the film in that he’s trying desperately to keep control of his actions for the sake of looking after the little girl felt like it could have been pushed out there more. I’d like to have seen what Soderbergh himself would have done had he directed the scene (or the whole film).

    There’s a lot that’s good about Keane; it just seemed that nothing was quite up to the challenge that it’s slight story and characters pesented, including perhaps, even Lewis.

    I’m trying to think of some really good film depictions of crazy people, especially as leads rather than supporting roles, and can’t think of any at the moment. I suppose it’s worth watching, especially for fans of relatively straight-forward, unpretentious film-making. I just wish it had shown a little more variety, and ratcheted up the feelings once or twice.

  2. I need to see Keane, but for Mark’s query about other films: I thought the director’s previous Clean, Shaven was outstanding–a gritty, discomforting performance by Peter Greene. I’m curious how this new film does/doesn’t go in other directions.

    Other films about mental illness–don’t most of ’em flirt with either bathos or romanticization? Or both? Even the few I admire–Fisher King or Cuckoo’s Nest–fall into these traps, and tend to allegorize rather than particularize the experiences of mental illness. Whatever you want to say about Kerrigan’s stuff, he avoids those approaches.

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