The American Buffalo programme booklet has a nice section in which Damian Lewis answers questions asked by fans.
Mr. Carlos Hill asks: “Which piece of work are you most proud of?”
Damian Lewis answers: “I’m proud of all my work. I always turn up and try my hardest to do the best job I can, but I was proud of my Hamlet, playing Soames Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga, and I’m also very proud of a small film called Keane, which not many people saw.”
Well, we talked about Damian’s Hamlet earlier here — both the one with Damian being in the lead role at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park and the one with Damian playing Laertes opposite Ralph Fiennes’ Hamlet on Broadway. We also talked about Damian’s Soames Forsyte in much detail. We only talked about Keane though in the context that how it gave us Nicholas Brody. And, now that Damian puts Keane in the top three jobs that he’s most proud of, it’s time we talk about Keane.
As Damian suggests, Keane is a small, independent film which not many people saw; however, it is a very serious film selected to be screened at both Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Festival in 2005 and LOVED by the critics, too. It is a movie that makes you think, and think hard. Questions pop up in your head as you watch the movie, and you have more questions than answers when you finish… Keane is a puzzle that you cannot solve, but that you cannot forget, either. It just stays with you.
The film, in a nutshell, is the story of a mentally disturbed guy, William Keane, who bonds with a little girl and her financially troubled mom while he is desperately searching for his own missing daughter.
Shot with a handheld camera, the movie is full of very close shots on Lewis that adds a certain level of claustrophobia to an already psychologically intense movie.
We see Keane talking to himself, crying, singing, eating at a rundown diner, cleaning himself in a public bathroom, using coke and having sex with a hooker in a nightclub bathroom. ALL IN EXTREMELY CLOSE SHOTS. Keane is almost breathing into you. You are trapped in his world that it’s deeply, deeply unsettling.
In Damian Lewis’ own words to the Guardian: “It’s a knockout role for an actor in terms of achieving a credibility in a character who spends 90 minutes in an extreme emotional state… It’s a huge responsibility. It’s not something you can dare to get wrong.”
AND, HE DOES EVERYTHING JUST RIGHT. No wonder Homeland producers gave Lewis the part for Brody after seeing this movie — and without an audition, too. What they wanted from him in Homeland was already in Keane: A broken individual dealing with mental problems and struggling to put his life back together at the same time.
Here is the movie trailer:
Spoiler Warning: If you have not seen the movie yet, and do mind spoilers, you may want to stop here. If you have seen the movie or you don’t mind spoilers, then please join me in my movie review — thanks!
We first meet William Keane — a divorced guy in his mid 30s, living on disability checks, partly staying at a seedy motel and otherwise homeless — at the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal where he inquires about a little girl at the ticket office with an old news clip in hand. He says it’s her daughter and she was abducted right there last September. She was 6. She had a purple jacket with a hood…
But then we see him buying clothes for his daughter and even buying clothes for himself and talking to himself “You have to be presentable for her. You are her father. You have to set a good example.” Does he move back and forth between his past and the reality? What is happening?
He goes to a bar. He plays “Can’t Help Myself” on the Juke Box and sings along loudly. He wants to hear the music even louder: “Turn up the Music, turn up the music, turn up the music!” It is extremely hard to watch this devastating scene.Damian Lewis is simply mind-blowing as this guy who lives in HELL. He tries it all to escape his demons — loud music, coke, sex in a nightclub bathroom —it just doesn’t work. There is no HOPE for Keane out there.
Then we get to meet Lynn Bedik (a brilliant Amy Ryan) and her daughter Kira (an even more brilliant Abigail Breslin). She is broke and cannot pay for the motel. Keane offers her money, she doesn’t want to accept, but he comes across very tender and sweet: “It’s not what you think it is, I know you don’t know me. But I’ve been in your position before; please, please take it.”
Lynn accepts. She later invites him to a take-out dinner in their hotel room. You feel the awkwardness all along. Lynn asks Keane personal questions. Job? He paints houses, also works in construction. No, he does not have a job right now, but he has some leads — it is really sad how he is trying to make a good impression on this young woman. Ever married? Yes. Once. Did not work out. BUT he does not mention her daughter. He does not mention Sophie. He does not, because he believes Lynn would think of him as a problem guy? Or… He just asks: “Do you wanna dance?”
You may find the dance scene sad. It is SAD. It is clear that it has been quite a long time since this man had some real intimacy with a woman. He is awkward, he does not know where to put his hands; it seems he wants to touch her, but does not want to make her feel uncomfortable, either; but he also has some comfort as they dance, and you can see ALL THIS AND MORE in Damian Lewis’ eyes. The guy does not need to say anything. He tells you all with his eyes. Yes, the scene is sad but I think there is also a glimpse of HOPE there. It has a “maybe, just maybe, I can put back my life together” kind of feel to it. You root for Keane. Here, I respectfully disagree with Village Voice critic Atkinson who argues that the movie’s achievement is that “its raw hopelessness is its universality.” Nope. I think there is HOPE in those eyes, at least, at that very moment.
Meeting Lynn and Kira pumps some new energy into Keane. He starts looking for a job… More importantly, he does not go to the bus terminal to look for her daughter… Instead he makes his way into Lynn and Kira’s room with the help of a screwdriver. You may think it’s CREEPY. It is. I would not want anyone to get into my room without me knowing and touch my things, smell my sweater or lie in my bed. And, I can see that everyone may interpret the scene in a different way and question Keane’s intentions. In my humble opinion though THIS IS ALL ABOUT HOPE. A “maybe this woman and this child will help me get through, maybe everything will be alright” kind of hope… Keane is hopeful now, he goes back to his room, and looks at a news clip about a missing NJ girl reunited with her family. “They got their girl back.” Maybe, everything will really be OK in the end.
Keane spends more time with Lynn and Kira. Lynn even leaves her daughter with him when she goes to Albany to “fix things” but then comes back with bad news for Keane. Her boyfriend has found a place to stay for them, and they are moving to Albany. “So, that’s it?” he asks. “Yeah” she answers.
The “raw hopelessness” that Atkinson talks about in his review kicks in now. Keane is back to where he started: The Port Authority Bus Terminal, and this time with Kira. He tells her they will go to Albany. But he buys one-way tickets to Clifton, New Jersey. And we all question his motives… so much so that it is pretty disturbing to watch. Does he think Lynn is not a responsible mother and does not deserve her daughter so he can just have and raise Kira as his own daughter? Does he plot that if he takes this little girl to that candy store where his daughter was abducted, the man that kidnapped his daughter would come for Kira so Keane could catch him?
Honestly, we do not even know if there was ever a daughter. We do not know if a real bad tragedy like the abduction of his child brought him to the edge, or did the mental problems bring him the delusion of an abducted daughter?
We just don’t know.