Keane

As everyone in the northern hemisphere is enjoying summer fun these days, let’s be oppositional and go back to one of Damian’s darkest roles. Here’s a revisit to the role that determined Damian to be the perfect fit for Nicholas Brody: Keane.

A fun fact: Keane was directed by Lodge Kerrigan, who also happened to direct an episode of Homeland, Season 2, “State of Independence”, the episode where Brody has the run-in with the tailor. Remember those chilling scenes in the woods? Beautifully paced, shot, and performed horror, reminiscent of much of the action in Keane.

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Took a while to get up the gumption to watch Keane. I knew enough about it to know it would be dark and harrowing and intense. One must block off some uninterrupted time and be in the right mindset to watch something like that.

I knew that Damian’s performance in Keane is what sold the Showtime brass on giving him the role of Nicholas Brody without an audition. The film is indeed intense watching. It’s a one man show really with the camera following Keane closely as he wanders the streets of New York, mostly silent and hopelessly disturbed. In William Keane, Damian captures perfectly the confusion of mental illness, the murky stare of loss and despair and incapacity to communicate effectively. I found the film was more about the performances than it was about the writing. Amy Ryan as the harried single mother, and Abigail Breslin, in that child-wise-beyond-her-years way she has, were great too, both cast perfectly, in an ultimately heartbreaking and raw story.

I’d read that his role in Keane was one Damian was particularly proud of, but it wasn’t until I heard him say so myself, that I knew I owed it to the film to watch it.

At the New Yorker Festival interview, although we didn’t see any clips from Keane as we did for his other work, Damian himself brought up his work in the film.

First, Damian described “the conundrum” of acting as:

“…this mixture of rehearsal and research and coming prepared ready to deliver something combined with a total free spontaneity, something which is unintellectualized, something that is just felt and received, an animal response to whatever happens in the moment. An actor must be prepared to do that at any moment and be receptive and open to that.”

Lauren Collins then asked Damian whether he carries around a notebook or something collecting his observations about people, their little ticks and what not. And that started him telling us about some of his preparation for Keane. “It was a film about a man who’d lost his daughter and is in the middle of a break down. It was a comedy,” he deadpanned. He described sitting in welfare hotels with the writer of Keane, Lodge Kerrigan, as he rewrote scenes. Damian also spent time in the other principal setting for the film, Port Authority Bus Terminal, talking to the “homeless and not well”.

“I think I feel responsibility very keenly, whether you’re playing a soldier in WWII and that veteran is still alive, that the story is represented well and truthfully, whether you’re playing someone with mental illness, you present it truthfully and honestly, it’s essential, otherwise it’s all just a big lie, and what’s the point.”

Undoubtedly, it is Damian’s capacity to “feel and receive an animal response”, that allows him to convey such truth in a character like Keane. If he had overthought it, he could possibly have resorted to any of the cliche stereotypical conventions of showing someone with mental illness. I believe he even toned down what I imagine he observed among the unwell people roaming Port Authority. You see the mentally ill often talking incessantly and animatedly to themselves, to the very real voices they hear in their heads. It’s like walking up to a person talking into a handsfree phone plugged into their ear. But these people, sadly, don’t have a phone in their ear; what they hear is, of course, inside their very brain. Damian did not show Keane chattering to himself, not in any exaggerated way. I mean, we all talk to ourselves, don’t we? I know I’m guilty of muttering my grocery list aloud as I walk around the grocery store. But the way you witness schizophrenics talk to themselves is quite different. Regardless, the fact that Keane was indeed hearing something we weren’t and responding silently to it was palpable.

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It was almost as if Damian were portraying a schizophrenic person on their meds. Not to insert myself into this post more than necessary, but I feel compelled to disclose that someone very close to me suffers from schizophrenia…which may be partly the reason I hesitated so long to watch this film:  I didn’t want it to be a lie, making an offensive or aggrandized spectacle out of something my family has had to come to terms with in a very real and painful way.  Of course, in Damian’s capable hands, it was anything but a lie. Anyway, in my experiences observing my family member both on and off her meds, I’ve seen that schizophrenics never quite erase the voices even when they’re on their meds. But they do sort of correct themselves when they notice themselves going off center:  they forceably call themselves back to reality. That calling back is something they are dramatically incapable of doing when they are off meds. Indeed, we learn that Keane receives diability benefits and one of the criteria for getting those checks, I believe, it to stay on meds.

No, we don’t see Keane downing any pills so we don’t know explicitly whether he’s on his meds or not. In fact, we do see him engaging in all kinds of self-medicating illicit drug and sex behavior. On the other hand, we also see him expressing suggestions of hope with the single mom and her daughter. Some glimmer of peace in his ravaged mind as he briefly imagines a better life for himself. A glimmer possible only when an ill person is taking care of themselves properly.

My point is simply that Damian did not resort to convention. He researched this role, sure, but more importantly, he felt it deeply and thereby honored it. His performance wasn’t just vacant stares punctuated with blinks and random twitches the way any lesser actor would portray mental illness. Yes, Damian did have tears welling up, and grimaces of anguish, and at times he did have blankness, but mostly he portrayed a man walking around with a storm of chaos deep within him. We never know if Keane really had a daughter he lost or whether she’s a figment of his paranoia and delusion. (For what it’s worth, I lean towards the latter)

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Watching this film, in certain scenes, I was reminded quite acutely of Bradley Cooper. One could go so far to say that Damian Lewis in 2004 was where Bradley Cooper is today as far as having that ability to fill and empty his eyes like he’s flicking a switch on and off. They also share the ability to believably play the two seemingly incongruous personas of dufus goofball and demon-haunted loner.

Without giving anything away, if the entire performance doesn’t move you, the last few minutes are utterly flooring. In a moment of lucidity, Keane looks at the girl played by Abigail Breslin, and he smiles, his first smile really in the entire film. He’s come to an impasse, a realization of sorts, and it actually brings him a brief flicker of happiness and relief. So we get the smile, but then he looks away from the girl and his eyes go immediately empty again. Like all of Damian’s abilities as an actor, that flick of the switch is so subtle that it’s nearly invisible. But, again, (I know I keep saying this!), you will FEEL it. And, again, it’s awe-inspiring.

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With Keane, we see Damian’s indisputable ability to achieve a sort of balance between preparation and spontaneity that transforms his practice of the craft of acting into an art form.

15 thoughts on “Keane”

  1. I watched several times “Keane” with the same emotion, and I never get tired!
    I always find a new expression in his eyes, on his face! This film leaves me sad, I would have liked a less sad end, but Damian’s face is beautiful, especially in the last scene, where he smiles, Crying, and saying “I love you too!”
    I’d like a new movie, like Keane or Homeland but as Damian says himself, it’s like a miracle, to have this chance !!Monique

    1. Yes, you can’t take your eyes off of him. Truly. Such opportunities don’t come around often enough for him. Hopefully with some smaller studios taking more risks with “art” films again, he’ll get a chance to really push for perfection and to really shine, as he did in Keane and Homeland. With beautiful films like Manchester by the Sea, Patterson, Moonlight, and, most recently, The Big Sick, all of which are Amazon Studios films, I think, there may be a resurgence in “smaller” cinema again. One can hope!!!

  2. I’m glad you raised the question if Keane really had a daughter or not. I’ve always wanted someone to ask Damian that question. I suppose his answer would be the actor’s ultimate prerogative: So long as Keane believes he has a daughter, that’s all that matters to play the character. Roger Ebert reviewed the film & raised the same issue. I tend to agree with your opinion. Thanks for this review!

    1. Yes! I think Damian would say exactly that. 🙂

      Keane does believe he has a daughter. Sometimes though, in the times when he’s a bit lucid and in tears over what’s happening, (as in my fourth gif), he knows he doesn’t. I guess folks read his tears as sorrow over a lost daughter and that no one believes him, but I read the tears as his sorrow over the deterioration of his own mind. Schizophrenics (when they’re sufficiently medicated) absolutely hate their disease and they mourn deeply for the person they were before, the person they could have been if they weren’t sick, this I know for a fact.

      Thanks as always for reading and stopping by to comment! 🙂

    1. Lodge Kerrigan did another film about a schizophrenic guy several years before Keane, “Clean, Shaven”. Don’t know a lot about Kerrigan, but the subject matter must be very close to his heart. It’s very difficult to write effectively. And Clean, Shaven, even though is some of the same story (a sick father trying to get a daughter back), it didn’t have Damian and was not as powerfully watchable as Keane was. Totally about how he took the role by the horns.

  3. Thanks for this review! I really love how you describe Damian’s unconventional skills and everything else!
     
    Even though my English is not enough to express what is my attitude towards the movie I will take the risk.
    I think that Keane had a daughter who has left due to some reason. There is no way to identify what his illness is. And I think that matter is still on a stage of collecting statistics for the symptoms on the basis of which certain classification of conditions has been accepted. The above has no significant importance. The important thing in my opinion is that he is SUFFERING. His restless mind and continuous anxiety are caused by the duty and responsibility to save his child’s safety and wealth, which every parent has for a lifetime. He has somehow failed in that. I consider that he is the one who is speaking to himself. This is the voice of the guilt that frustrates him. “You have to search for your daughter! “You have to search for your daughter! These are not strangers’ voices as it is in the Schizophrenia voices. I believe that every parent has the same voice inside: “You have to take care of your child!”. Due to the loss, Keane has liberated that voice to speak loud so it has taken absolute control over his life making his behavior go out of the frames of the socially acceptable. The frightful truth is that through most of the time we are unable to protect our children from anything. More or less nothing depends on us. “Walking around with a storm of chaos deep inside him” as you have perfectly described Keane – this is the experience of frustration and despair that every parent would feel if anything bad happens to his child. Some people are fortunate to have their children well and healthy for life but others are not. Some are fortunate to behave “normal” – others not. Is not it irony? May be “It’s a comedy” as Damian cleverly deadpanned. (I really want to watch the New Yorker Festival interview!). This is only my opinion. (I think that I’ve seen somewhere the subtitle of the movie “In God’s hands”, but I can not find it now, so please help me to unravel this mystery 🙂 🙂 Anyway, it is very easy for every person due to certain reason to reach the point where his life is no longer in his hands. It would be splendid if we could ask Lodge Kerrigan about that.
     
    The charge of emotions, feelings and the following reflections, which Damian is able to transmit only by a few mimics and expressions of his eyes here is so intense, dense and saturated that it is difficult to be described with words one’s perceptions after watching “Keane ”. That “animal response to whatever happens” is a very wise tactic. But I also think it is a brave. To throw away anything else, to undress your vanity, to remain “necked” and to jump into a role like this is a brave. And this is the only way to show the truth. It is a very “shortcut” to the essence of the character. And Damian did it the best! I really have not seen a performance like this before! I know that cinema is a teamwork. I know that many people have their merits too. I know Lodge Kerrigan has a great merit to become “Keane” the movie it is. But Damian really did the best!
     I was glad to understand that he did not like the Stanislavski method. For me, this is a perfect and fake method instead of turning 100% into a character. But I guess sometimes it is very helpful. If for some reason an actor can not easily get in and out of a role, or at the moment is emotionally unstable, it’s a good and moderate method. I read somewhere that it was very hard for Jessica Lange to recover after “Frances”

     I want him to be respected by the people who know the craft too. And I really really hope there will be more movies like this for Damian! 🙂

    1. Interesting interpretation! I don’t know, I think if he really did have a missing daughter, he wouldn’t be alone in the search for her. Police would be involved, the girl’s mother, etc. In fact an entire community comes together when a child goes missing. It’s interesting that you think that losing his daughter made him a bit crazy, talking to himself due to the deep trauma of losing her. Yes, there are traumas that can lead to this sort of behavior, I guess. PTSD, I’m guessing, may lead to the same sorts of paranoia.

      But, schizophrenia is not a disease that arises from trauma. It’s just biology. It’s not stress-related, it’s something genetic that expresses itself usually in young adulthood. And the fact that Lodge Kerrigan made another film about a schizophrenic man (Clean, Shaven) and we saw evidence in the film that Keane was getting disability benefits (the check he signs over for his rent) both say pretty clearly, to me, that he as schizophrenic.

      It’s always fun to guess at these things. We do agree that Damian gave his all to this performance and it is, indeed, something he should be very proud of. He must have a very strong core self to be able to give himself so fully. And, boy, are we grateful!!

    2. I didn’t know the movie’s tagline was In God’s Hands. It could be so for an interesting reason. Kerrigan made a movie called In God’s Hands earlier — and I think it was also about a mentally ill person — whose negative was very badly damaged. So that movie basically died. And Kerrigan made Keane with Damian as replacement for that movie. I hope this clears the mystery! 🙂

      I WANT Damian to be in more and more movies and yes preferably movies like Keane! <3

        1. Look what I found! This interview explains “In God’s hands” – mistake and many other things too.
          http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/ffc/2013/01/keen-shaven-ffc-interviews-lodge-kerrigan.html

          LODGE KERRIGAN: “We live in really critical times and I have a lot of empathy for people who live on the margins of society, I think – a lot of empathy for people with mental illness, especially in this day and age that seems So confusing and frightening so I wonder if people as a general rule do not have a better empathy for paranoia and erratic behaviors. ”
          “What EMPATHY!” – I was thinking all the time while I was watching Keane for the first time two and a half years ago. Because I’ve always had this habit of thinking and trying to catch what the actor himself thinks and feels about the character while I’m watching a movie.
          Kerrigan is my man 

          “… I look at it in a positive way now that I would have done In God’s Hands, I would never have done Keane.”

           Can we imagine how EXSREEMLY lucky we are!

          1. YES! I have that interview and a couple of others – I want to put together a thing about Keane with words from both Damian Lewis and Lodge Kerrigan. It is an important film in many ways. And, yes, we are extremely lucky to have Keane (and maybe thankful in a way that In God’s Hands is gone…)

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