Saturday, September 23, 2006

KEANE - brilliant method acting but ultimately alienating

KEANE is sadly not a movie about the brilliant central mid-fielder. It is, in fact, an ultra-low budget movie about a mentally ill man called William Keane, living in contemporary New York. Keane is played by Damian Lewis (the ginger from Band of Brothers) in a tour-de-force of minutely observed acting. And writer-director Lodge Kerrigan puts the audience smack in Keane's face. The movie is shot in an uncomfortable, claustrophobic hand-held close-up. We are right with Keane as he harangues commuters as to whether they have seen his daughter who was allegedly abducted six months previously. We follow Keane as he gets drunk, takes class A drugs, has casual sex and befriends a mother and her daughter who are living in his decrepit motel. His motives for befriending the young girl, played the precociously talented Abigail Breslin, are concerning.

Keane is not the sort of movie that you are supposed to enjoy. It is, I think, designed to make you empathise with people marginalised in society - and in particular a man who has become mentally ill through grieving....or whose grief is part of his mental illness. And the acting really is tremendous on the part of Lewis - a sort of actor's guide to utter conviction. My problem with the film is rather the writing of the part of the mother. She takes decisions that I find implausible and rather "Hollywood". For instance, she cautiously accepts a hundred dollars from Keane to help pay the rent. All well and good. She is suitably suspicious of his motives. Then she invites him to share take-out. Okay. Then he asks her to dance, as if we are at some 1950s tea-dance! And she says yes! Now, please, do we really think this sort of exchange is plausible? So, as hard as Lewis works to keep us with Lewis, the writing kept taking me out of it. Added to which the verite style is bloody hard work.

To my taste, I am far more likely to empathise and have my attention wrapt by a movie like TIDELAND or SPIDER, that takes me not just bang-smack in the face of a mentally ill person but actually inside his or her mind. To that end, I found Kerrigan's movie rather limited.

KEANE showed at Toronto 2004, Cannes and London 2005. KEANE has been on release on Region 1 DVD since March 2006. It received a limited cinematic release in France, the US and Greece in 2005 and opened in the UK yesterday.

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