LIST CANDIDATE: KEANE (2004)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  Damian Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Amy Ryan

PLOT:  The lives of three desperate people intersect when a schizophrenic man clings to sanity long enough to help a distressed woman and her young daughter in the underbelly of Manhattan.

Still from Keane (2004)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Keane provides a schizophrenics’ eye view of the world. Presented from the protagonist’s unique perspective, we experience his confusion, distress and earnest need to be understood in closeup.  The effect is claustrophobic, frantic at times, and uniquely unsettling.  This makes for a viewing experience that is as unusual as Keane’s compelling odyssey.

COMMENTS:  Intense, suspenseful, unpredictable, Keane is an unsettling story that disorients the viewer by stripping him of any sense of control or foresight. In this harrowing, unusual drama, a mentally ill man struggles to pull himself together when his tenuous personal odyssey is interrupted by a dislocated woman with her eight-year-old daughter in tow.  Keane (Lewis) is frantically searching for his abducted daughter whom he lost in New York’s Port Authority bus terminal months before.  Battling the adversity of delusions and an already unbalanced brain chemistry exacerbated by substance abuse, he aimlessly drifts through seedy Manhattan locales with a feverish purpose.

Querying passersby with a newspaper photo of his child, retracing his steps leading to his daughter’s disappearance, Keane has at best a shaky grasp on reality.  As he teeters on the edge of sanity, he has numerous close scrapes, and we are left to wonder if his daughter and her supposed abduction are real or merely a delusional schizophrenic construct.  Is Keane driven mad because of his sense of guilt over the disappearance of his little girl, or is the entire episode imagined because he is mad?

Keane’s life is complicated, yet conversely given direction when he forms an uneasy alliance with a questionable woman (Breslin) and her bewildered daughter (Ryan) who are mired  in a similarly helpless situation of their own.  Can Keane keep hold of himself long enough to help, and if so, will his efforts bear fruit—or is he being conned?  And what about his missing child?  Is she real?  Can Keane separate fantasy from reality, or will he confuse his situation with that of his new wards?

While Keane shares some fleeting similarities to moments such as the all-night diner scene in Midnight Cowboy, the overall mood of harsh, unbuffered reality, unabashed locations, and the characters’ personal eccentricities compares most closely with Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 film, The Rain People.

Like The Rain People, Keane offers a stark, almost excruciatingly real and raw, documentary-like dose of gritty people and their situations, unsoftened by mood-setting background music, or storybook establishing shots.  The gloomy, seamy visual footprint is claustrophobic, the settings non-idealized and the treatment of the subject matter unapologetic.

Keane is an unsettling, voyeuristic stare at it’s subject.  Filmed from Keane’s vantage point, the viewer is made to feel like he is that shell of the once sane anti-hero, trapped inside Keane himself, but unable to intervene as a more powerful, perverse alter-ego takes control and carries him along for the ride.  Infused with a mix of empathy and revulsion, we do our best to hold on and roll with the punches as Keane inexorably falters down an uncertain path, doing his best, sometimes falling short, leaving us to hold our breath and persistently wonder, “what next?”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Somewhere between a thriller and a clinical study in schizophrenia, ‘Keane’ is a movie that puts you so far into someone else’s head you may have forgotten your own name by the time it’s over.”–Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

Keane trailer

2 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: KEANE (2004)”

  1. Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan’s debut—Clean, Shaven (1993), which is currently in the reader-suggested review queue—was also a first person story about a schizophrenic with daughter issues. I think I will have to watch this one too for comparison purposes when I get around to reviewing C,S. Both movies were critical faves (C,S has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, Keane an 83%).

  2. Of the two Lodge Kerrigan films I have seen, I would say this is the less successful one. Then again, “Clean, Shaven” was a truly troubling film, and one of the best films about schizophrenia I have ever seen.

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