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Movie Review: Keane

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Some films make us feel uncomfortable and troubled not only as we watch them, but for days afterward. It’s often easy to dismiss these films as not being your cup of tea, but there must be something extraordinary about them when it becomes impossible to forget what you’ve seen.

One such recent film that stands out in my mind is Gregg Araki’s stark sexual molestation drama Mysterious Skin. It was a struggle to get through it because I didn’t like what I was witnessing. Then something strange happened. As the days passed, I still had the film etched in my memory.

The two main characters seemed like real young men who had suffered the unimaginable horrors portrayed in the film. A few months later, I can’t unequivocally say I intend on watching the film again, but it’s still nearly as vivid and disturbing as when I first saw it. Another such film is Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane.

Keane is the story of a man in his mid-thirties who is haunted by memories of his daughter being abducted in New York City’s Port Authority bus terminal. He also struggles with mental illness that, like much of the film, is never explained to the viewer. The audience is plunged into Keane’s world without the knowledge of whether his daughter was really abducted or even existed at all.

Keane is also in search of a job despite apparently receiving a government disability check for reasons not fully explained. At times, he is able to interact normally and seemS like a stable, normal person. On other occasions, however, we see the ugliness of his mental illness such as when he becomes paranoid and yells at no one in particular to stop looking at him.

This outburst happens when he’s looking after a little girl (who happens to be about the same age as his abducted daughter) whose mother is staying in the same motel and whom he has befriended. The whole sequence involving Keane and the young girl is extremely suspenseful in a perverse sort of way. The audience almost knows something tragic is likely to happen and we must wait to see if and how our fears are realized. It’s painful, yet riveting, to watch.

In the title role, Damian Lewis is brilliant and fearless. Watching the beginning of the film and being familiar with the locations, I found myself wondering if the camera was hidden and the reactions of the passersby were real. I have experienced people as disturbed as Keane. Lewis is eerily realistic in his performance.

Despite Keane’s many, many flaws, I was never repulsed by him and I was hopeful that he could somehow avoid falling into the trap he appears to be setting himself up for as the film plays out. Again, I think that’s a testament to Lewis’ performance, that the audience feels empathy for Keane instead of him being some one-dimensional wackjob.

Ultimately, Keane is an enigmatic film without any real answers. The audience doesn’t really learn too much about Keane aside from the ninety minutes we spend with him. He tells the little girl’s mother he was married and had a daughter, but we have no idea if he’s telling the truth.

Writer/director Kerrigan never tells us what is or is not real or imagined by Keane (aside from his obviously delusional search for his daughter’s abductor). Kerrigan also chooses to focus his camera on Keane throughout the film in tight, claustrophobic close-ups. This technique commands the audience’s attention and gives us little escape from Keane’s world.

If someone is easily frustrated by stories like this, where there are no little bows to nicely wrap up what’s happened, then Keane is not the movie for them. If, however, they enjoy strikingly bold and original films that sometimes make the audience feel uncomfortable and refuses to placate the lowest common denominator, then I would recommend this film without reservation.

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