Reviewed By Aaron West
Posted 06/15/05 05:26:19

"An exercise in overindulgence at the expense of the audience's comfort,"
1 stars (Total Crap)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL. Don’t be fooled. Keane, the movie, isn’t associated with the British pop band or the Family Circus cartoonist Bill Keane. The movie is, in fact, nearly the polar opposite compared to the relative levity of its namesakes. The movie compares much more appropriately to violent, viscious acts, such as self-inflicted wounds, perhaps even the loss of a major limb. Yes, my friends, this is a harsh one.

Keane is a cinematic experiment with in-depth character study. The protagonist, or “subject” as the case may be, is William Keane (Damian Lewis), a paranoid schizophrenic whose daughter was apparently abducted six months prior. His detective work relies on his own delusions rather than tangible evidence, which at one time causes him to assault an innocent man. In addition to his psychosis, he also happens to be an alcoholic and a drug addict – a fondue pot of instability. He is financially independent because of his disability check, which probably has more to do with his mental well-being rather than any physical impairment. Mr. Keane parades around the town maniacally, guided only by the missing screws in his head.

Damian Lewis, perhaps only famous for Band of Brothers (certainly not for Dreamcatcher) gives an emotionally charged, impassioned performance as the tormented William Keene. His performance seems even more riveting considering the intrusive camera attention he’s given. It’s his show, and his convincing turn truly a spectacle to behold. It’s easily among the best performances I’ve seen this year, which is too bad really, because most human beings will only be able to stand watching 5 minutes of it.

In normal circumstances, Lewis’ work would be enough to make a film watchable, but the filmmakers make it a miserable experience for the audience. It’s obvious that their intent was to make us not only see what William was going through, but also to feel his anguish, literally. I can understand, and even appreciate, that occasionally difficult camerawork is appropriate. For instance, Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, were both examples of disturbing camerawork that contributed to the plot, while not creating a physically uncomfortable experience for the audience. A moviegoer doesn’t want to feel like they’ve ridden a roller coaster a hundred times after leaving the theater, and they shouldn’t. Just because the characters themselves are tormented, doesn’t mean the audience has to be equally tormented in order to get the point.

When a human being turns his head from side to side, the eyes keep relative focus. Objects can blur when a human head turns rapidly, but the body is able to adjust quickly once the motion stops. The camera, however, does not keep focus when it moves around briskly. If it doesn’t come to a complete stop, as is often the case with Keane, it can be unsettling to watch. For that reason, steady camerawork requires a bit of responsibility. Carelessly moving it back and forth rapidly is disorienting to the eyes. Combining that with bobbing up and down (such as when the cameraman is climbing stairs) is nausea inducing. Lodge Kerrigan and his cinematographer John Foster could learn a thing or two from Von Trier or even Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday), who are able to minimize any discomfort their work could inflict on the audience, while still using the camera to enhance an already turbulent scene or theme.

Even for “slice of life” films, some narrative structure is also important. For Keane, any sort of narrative is completely thrown out the window. There are hardly any plot points during the first half of the film. Most of it is Keane running around the city frantically, either searching for his daughter, another vial of cocaine, or his own piece of mind. The “plot” is introduced far later, when he befriends and helps a financially troubled mother and her 7-year old daughter. The movie is already difficult to watch because of the shooting style, but when nothing really happens, the discomfort is exacerbated, making it a painful movie to watch on many levels. Unfortunately, the latter half of the film is somewhat interesting at times, but comes too late. Most of the audience will be completely lost by that point, if they’re still in the theater at all.

I can understand, even appreciate, the art within a film such as this, but that artistry was overindulged at the expense of the viewing experience. It’s unfortunate, because William Keane is a fascinating character, and Damian Lewis gives an equally fascinating performance. There was a good movie somewhere within this mess, but Lodge Kerrigan’s interpretation was the equivalent of him rubbing a crayon over a Picasso painting.

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