"Keane": Lighting the dark corners of schizophrenia
Few movies probe as deeply into the souls of the mentally damaged as Lodge Kerrigan's heartbreaking new thriller, "Keane. " Fewer still start...
Special to The Seattle Times
Few movies probe as deeply into the souls of the mentally damaged as Lodge Kerrigan's heartbreaking new thriller, "Keane." Fewer still start right off by emphasizing the more troubling aspects of derangement. Kerrigan all but dares you to keep watching his central character during the early scenes.
William Keane is introduced as a belligerent schizophrenic, the kind of out-of-control creature you'd instinctively avoid on the street. Brilliantly played by Damian Lewis, he beats up strangers, babbles incoherently about a lost child, snorts coke, indulges in violent and anonymous sex, and screams at a bartender who refuses to turn up the volume on the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself."
This turns out to be Keane's theme song, his cry for help, and it's at this point that the film begins to reveal a gentler, less aggressive, more complicated side to his nature. On his best behavior for once, he helps out a wary, destitute woman (Amy Ryan) and her young daughter (Abigail Breslin), who may or may not have been abandoned.
While Keane's attempts to start a romantic attachment go nowhere, the mother trusts him enough to let him baby-sit the girl, who eventually responds to him — perhaps because she really likes him, perhaps because she's not sure she'll see her parents again. Both wise and frightened, she has a survivor's instinct for improvisation.
There's something not quite healthy about this relationship, which seems to be based entirely on the absence of others, yet it gradually becomes legitimate. True, Keane may be taking advantage of a situation that allows him a substitute for the daughter he appears to have lost. But he's more lost than she is, and she provides a solace that's both genuine and tragically temporary.
Breslin, who played Mel Gibson's daughter in "Signs," gives a natural performance that's blessedly free of child-actor tics. Lewis, a charismatic Brit who has no trouble playing Americans (he carried much of HBO's "Band of Brothers"), is so good he's a little terrifying. Even in his quieter moments, Keane seems capable of doing great harm; the scary ambiguity of the film's ending is entirely justified.
At such moments, Kerrigan's movie (co-produced by Steven Soderbergh) demonstrates that it's closer to the terrors and sympathies of Fritz Lang's "M" than it is to the bland assurances of Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind."
It's the most accessible film to date from a talented independent filmmaker whose similar but more difficult past work ("Clean, Shaven," "Claire Dolan") now looks like necessary preparation for this.
John Hartl: email@example.com
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