From the 42nd New York Film Festival: Keane
Indebted to the singled-minded aesthetic protagonist dependency of the Dardennes brothers (Palm D’or winning Rosetta, and 2003’s The Son), Keane latches onto the mentally disturbed head of William Keane (Damian Lewis) and attempts to wring as much compassion as possible from his sad situation. Whether or not Keane has always been disturbed is an interesting ambiguity in the film, which is written and directed by Lodge Kerrigan. Keane’s daughter was abducted in the New York Port Authority bus terminal and the trauma has either manifested a mental disturbance or pushed a disability to such an extreme as to make the man barely able to live day-to-day existence.
Keane opens with its protagonist mumbling to himself in the bus terminal, trying to go over again and again in his head the pure logistics of his trip with his daughter that could allow such an abduction to take place. Kerrigan’s film is at its strongest in its opening minutes where the immediacy of the film’s well tested aesthetic-keeping Damian Lewis’s head in close-up throughout and following him as he moves and speaks rather than capturing exactly where he is moving or to whom he is speaking-dismisses exposition and encourages ambiguity. It initially looks like Keane is financially independent through disability checks, so he does not have to work and instead has the leisure to dedicate himself to his traumatic wandering.
It is amazing and powerful that this man, who in appearance is a disheveled, white, middle-class man terrified over the abduction of his daughter, is stalking through the terminal talking to himself like all those random crazies who inhabit New York. Kerrigan seems to streak across a racial and social line and reveal not just how anyone can end up in such a wretched physical and mental state, but he also seems to be breaking a norm of showing who these people are, rupturing the self-taught technique of overlooking and distancing from such anonymous “crazies” by making his protagonist from the same race and social background as audiences are used to from watching Hollywood’s output.
As Keane progresses the arc of Kerrigan’s film takes more shape and disappointingly discourages this cinematic challenge, as well as this ambiguity. Keane is in fact at the lower rungs of poverty, and lacks the ability to internalize his grief. Weeping and paranoid, the man uses drugs and alcohol to distant himself from his vague quest of solving his mixed burdens of guilt and grief. When he coincidently meets a mother, Lynn (Amy Ryan), and her younger daughter (Abigail Breslin) at the hotel he is staying at, the movie assumes a weighty inevitability that neither Lewis’ fine performance or Kerrigan’s attempt at aesthetic consistency can relieve.
It is all a matter of time until Keane restagse the abduction with the young girl, and Kerrigan’s desire to humanize this impoverished “crazy” reduces the film’s haunting, dark potentials of pedophilia and re-abduction. With the exception of the cocaine use Kerrigan paints Keane as an all too-sympathetic victim and thereby the film has little to do of interest while Keane gradually insinuates himself into the family so as to get closer to the facsimile of his daughter to attempt a warped self-healing. Now forced to talk to other people rather than converse with himself, the realization that Keane can internalize his grief with little consequences and his ability to keep it together reflects that his disability most likely due to trauma and a collapse of a support system (he is divorced from his wife and doesn’t speak to his only brother). Even with this reveal, Kerrigan continues the film down the predictable road of narrative fulfillment rather than the thematic exploration easily available through his chosen technique of close, personal, humanizing filmmaking. While the film is successful in eliciting compassion for its lead, the job is not a difficult one, and Kerrigan makes it far too easy.