Keane opens on a harrowing, bleak tableau: Frantic, haggard and half-paranoid, William Keane restlessly paces around New York City's Port Authority Terminal, conducting an agonizing search for his missing daughter. As portrayed by British thespian Damian Lewis (you've seen him in the Stephen King adaptation Dreamcatcher and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers), Keane is a fractured, desperate human being – it's a superb, meticulous performance that tragically went all but unnoticed during the film's limited release in 2005.
Writer/director Lodge H. Kerrigan, the auteur responsible for the likewise compelling and little-seen 1994 psychodrama Clean, Shaven, gets in tight with Keane and never strays far from close-ups; as Keane aimlessly wanders from bars to his dingy hotel room to fruitless job searches, John Foster's jittery hand-held cinematography refuses to let either the characters or the audience breathe.
Keane is primarily a relentless character study, but also a subtle thriller and social commentary of sorts. It's established early on that Keane suffers from mental illness, creating a cloud of uncertainty as to whether he even has a daughter to lose in the first place. When Keane has a chance meeting with a mother and daughter (Amy Ryan and Abigail Breslin, respectively), his fragile world is further splintered, building to a climax as inevitable as it is chilling.
Kerrigan sketches Keane in unsparing, minimalist strokes, eschewing a soundtrack and preferred to let the claustrophobic narrative works its magic; suffuse with a grungy sense of place, it's a faintly hopeless, drab world where Keane's seemingly untreated mental illness creates a tragic cycle of dysfunction that he can't possibly hope to break. Kerrigan's narrative economy isn't for lack of material; it's simply due to the fact that through his skillful direction and Lewis' raw, revelatory performance, there's very little fat to be found.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, there really isn't enough that can be said about Lewis' truly amazing performance as the titular character – you can literally see Keane's world unraveling from moment to moment; Lewis' gaunt features and piercing blue eyes lend an unsettled air to this man so clearly ill at ease with himself. His performance overshadows all others in the film – Breslin registers with her heartbreaking naturalism, but Ryan barely makes an impression and any remaining characters exist in the periphery.
I can think of several reasons why you shouldn't miss Keane, but you really only need one: Damian Lewis' performance will stick with you for days and despite being released last year, it's still one of the best I've seen in 2006. This minor masterpiece disquiets even as it enthralls – a compact, tightly wound piece of drama that functions almost as a tone poem or heartsick meditation, Keane is supremely engaging filmmaking that slips under your skin and stays there. Don't miss it.
Offered in a sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Keane looks smooth and clean, although a considerable amount of grain is evident, particularly in the more lowly-lit scenes. Given the film's likely dearth of funds, it's to Kerrigan and director of photography John Foster's credit that Keane looks as good as it does.
Given that Keane deals with subjective viewpoints, the soundtrack's effectiveness is crucial – fortunately, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track here is superb; wonderfully immersive and alive with surround activity, Keane neatly plunges the viewer into a very realistic aural environment. Spanish subtitles are also included.
Aside from the trailers for Bubble, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Klepto, A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Pulse, The Seat Filler and The War Within, Keane boasts one of the most compelling bonuses I've seen on a DVD in some time: an alternate cut of the film itself, created by no less than Steven Soderbergh, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. In a text screen preceding the alternate cut, Soderbergh writes: "While I was away on location, Lodge sent me a copy of 'Keane' to look at before he locked picture. I loved the film and told him so, but also sent him this version to look at, in case it jogged anything (it didn't). In any event, we agreed it was an interesting (to us) example of how editing affects intent. Or something."
In lieu of a commentary track (although it would've been fantastic to hear Kerrigan and Soderbergh discuss this film), this different take on the same material is absolutely fascinating; Kerrigan adheres to his narrative, while Soderbergh seems more pre-occupied with developing atmosphere and concentrating intensely on the character of Keane, waiting nearly 20 minutes before advancing the plot. Each cut has its strengths and weaknesses, but as an exercise in cinematic what-if, it's ingenious.
Put simply, writer/director Lodge H. Kerrigan's disturbing Keane is an unforgettable film, one fueled by Damian Lewis' searing performance as the titular character and Kerrigan's willingness to get in close and stay there. Coupled with Steven Soderbergh's intriguing alternate cut, Keane is a lock for DVD Talk Collectors Series status.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.