Friday, February 09, 2007


In Keane, we are introduced to William Keane (Damian Lewis), a man searching for his missing daughter. We form our first impression of Keane as he questions a worker in a train station ticket booth, asking the employee if he remembers selling tickets to his daughter the previous week, as it was the last time he saw his daughter. Keane appears to be grasping at straws in his search, and this initial scene goes some way to preparing the audience for what is to come.

Our involvement in Keane's struggle is immediate, but we are also given many questions to answer from the outset, almost all of them relating to this man's mental health. For example, in this initial scene, we can forgive Keane his insistent questioning of the ticket booth employee, as he is obviously traumatised by the tragedy of his daughter's disappearance. However, as he subsequently questions random passers-by in the same train station, becoming ever more stressed and frantic when they fail to give him satisfactory answers, we begin to get a clearer picutre of Keane's mental state.

From the first moments of this tense, fraught character study of a man caught in the grip of mental illness, we are drawn into Keane's desperation, anguish and loneliness. Director Lodge Kerrigan continually fixes the camera either on Keane's face or over his shoulder, giving the audience the feeling that we are pursuing this character as he drifts around the city in his vain quest. As we follow Keane and events unfold, he sinks ever deeper into despair. He talks to himself, and this quasi-narration is almost the only dialogue in the first half of the movie. He tries to do normal things to make himself feel better, like going to a bar and having a drink for example, but it doesn't quite work out as you would expect. He goes to a night club and meets a girl, but you just know the outcome isn't going to be wine and roses for Keane.

Eventually, just when you are reaching exhaustion with Keane's unrelenting despair, two other characters are introduced. Keane meets a mother and daughter at the hostel where he is staying and befriends them, and a process of osmosis appears to kick in when Keane is around these people. His despair gives way to a sudden calm, especially in the company of the young girl Kira (played by Abigail Breslin). Where he was tense and frantic in public places earlier in the movie, he is now calm and at ease around Kira and her mother, and even demonstrates more than adequate parenting skills in his interactions with Kira.

However, this relationship is at the heart of the questions 'Keane' is asking the audience. Did William really have a daughter, or is Keane's entire identity a product of his mental illness? Is William's interest in the child Kira the innocent protective instinct of a grieving father, or is there a more sinister motive under the surface?

Keane is played by Damian Lewis, and the performance is nothing short of incredible. This is a particularly challenging role, and director Lodge Kerrigan gives Lewis nowhere to hide, fixing the camera on his face for roughly two-thirds of the movie. Lewis' ability to exude anguish makes Keane's suffering palpable to the audience, but when he has his more tender moments with Kira, we can let ourselves believe that he had a daughter, so at ease are his interactions with the young girl. How this performance was not recognised on a wider scale is beyond me, especially given that Steven Soderbergh's name is associated with this picture as an executive producer.

William's soliliquys do not narrate proceedings in the traditional sense, but the effect is of an unreliable narrator, and this device is used to particularly good effect in Keane. The audience is never at ease with William as a character, and as he repeats the important events of his life towards the end of the movie, we are left to wonder, is he restating these events so as to remember them in the face of his mental breakdown, or is he committing them to memory in order to adopt a new identity for some reason? As I said earlier, this is more character study than pat story-telling, and this slice of Keane's troubled, anguish-filled life leaves the audience with more questions than answers as the end credits roll. There is no 'ending' to speak of, Lodge Kerrigan merelty shuts off the camera after ninety minutes.

So, it's not an easy movie, and PCMR would not recommend watching it on a Friday evening as I did, because this film will leave you so unsettled, you may not be able to cope with a night out afterwards! However, the performance from Lewis is as good an acting job as you will see, and Keane is definitely worth seeing. The audience accompanies William Keane on a dark path, and, luckily we come out the other side almost completely intact for the experience.

The verdict: Harrowing, but immersive. Lewis' performance is magnificent.
The rating: 8/10

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