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Keane

dir: Lodge Kerrigan
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This film is about a crazy guy. No, it’s not about Jim Carrey. This isn’t the fun kind of crazy, as in endlessly entertaining antics of eager eccentrics, or the transgressive kind of crazy you get from ‘enjoying’ the adventures of psychopathic serial killers like Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates or the Pope.

This is the real kind of crazy. As in, mental illness that isn’t entertaining for entertainment’s sake. That isn’t quirky, grandiose and cute. That is uncomfortable, unsettling and unexplainable.

William Keane clearly, right from the start, isn’t playing with a full deck of cards. Although, he probably does possess a full deck, it’s just that the cards are made of sea horses, radioactive gingerbread and bird teeth. He’s clearly suffering from some kind of dissociative disorder; we’re just trying to work out how bad the damage is and where it comes from.

We first watch him asking people at the station if they’ve seen his daughter. Right then and there we know he’s mad, because he also mentions that she’s been missing for a long time.

Okay, so he’s either a crazy guy; or a crazy guy with a missing daughter, or a sane guy driven mad by the loss of his daughter.

Damien Lewis gives an incredible performance as our main crazy guy. As a redheaded man trying to make a living in Hollywood, Lewis is already behind the eight-ball. He completely subsumes himself in this very difficult role, with only occasional lapses into overdoing it.

Mostly he plays the role of a paranoid schizophrenic really well. Having known a few paranoid schizophrenics in my time, and having spent a lot of time on usenet, which seems to be populated mostly by paranoid schizophrenics, he gives a very credible performance in my opinion, as the main character, upon whom the entire film rests. Most of the film is shot in tight focus close up, with the camera in front, to the side or directly behind him to show how claustrophobic the schizophrenic’s world is.

The logic of the person with a dissociative disorder is well portrayed here. We receive indications that Keane’s daughter Sophia went missing from a train station. To him, the time on the clock is a clue, random pieces of paper might possess clues, and seeing things at random from a bus window are leads to Sophia and the man who took her.

He feels the abductor around him at the station. It could be anyone. He even suspects the man is there, and watching him, instead. He selects some guy at random and starts wailing on him, convinced that he’s the kidnapper. How likely is it, do you think?

When not in the throes of his illness, he is fairly lucid. He can sometimes pass for sane, like when he needs to pay his hotel bill, score some cocaine or have sex with some club slut willing to give it up for a couple of lines. Even then he can’t quite do the right thing by her, probably less because he’s a schizophrenic and more because he’s a bit of a high functioning arsehole.

But more often than not he careens around like an ice cream truck with cut brakes, running over bulls in china shops and squashing the cat amongst the pigeons. It really is quite uneasy watching him, making the film a fascinating but uncomfortable experience.

Considering the attention to detail on the part of the director Lodge Kerrigan, who’s made another film about a high functioning schizophrenic called Clean, Sober, this isn’t meant to just be a story about a guy who goes crazy when he loses his daughter, who can get it all back with redemption, the love of a good woman and a good night’s sleep. Schizophrenia is not the kind of condition caused by a traumatic event, or post traumatic stress disorder, or not wearing clean underwear.

As such, the elaborate rituals (of which the train station is the biggest one), the insane illogic he derives and imposes on scenarios are not bringing him closer to either his daughter or mental health. But they do lead to some kind of outcome that I could not predict.

Nothing in the film is really predictable, in that there’s no real plot, although it does build towards something. It’s a testament to the creativity and inventiveness of the people involved that I could not guess from scene to scene what was going to happen next. That usually is how most films seem to me, but for this one, I just had to sit there like I was the sober and straight passenger in a car driven by Bill Hicks on acid. All you can do is sit back and see where it’s going to take you.

Which isn’t really anywhere, since this is a very low-key film. But it’s a strange journey all the same.

Keane is staying in a hotel, and sees a woman around his own age with a seven-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin), who pleads poverty to the cashier threatening to throw them out. Motivated by something apart from charity, Keane strikes up a relationship with them, behaving in a perfectly sane and gentlemanly manor. The girl’s mother doesn’t know anything about Keane, nor does her boring little munchkin daughter, so they just see him as a regular, nice guy. We know he’s a goddamn fruitcake, so we’re watching, sometimes with dread, to see what he’s going to do next.

He’s not really a ticking time bomb to us, but he cannot be predicted. We gather that he needs the daughter, Kira, for something, and in my case I really hoped it was something benign.

An irony arises in that as a surrogate father to Kira, Keane is always, except for thirty seconds when he screams at people at random, a perfectly attentive and doting guardian. These scenes indicate that, since doubts arise, he most likely at some point was a father. Because nothing is certain in this film. We can’t trust Keane to tell himself, other characters or us the truth about anything, because of his illness. He is at the mercy of his brain chemistry, and so are we.

The end, which I dreaded, has the acting out of an elaborate scenario which makes sense to Keane but not to anyone else (including me). It’s so well done that even not making sense, it manages to give the story, the character and us a kind of satisfying ending where none seemed to be.

Really remarkable, to be honest. Very impressive. There are few films about schizophrenia, few good films about mental illness. Mostly that’s because the temptation is always to overdo it or oversell it, and to keep it within confines that audiences are comfortable with. When filmmakers get it right, it’s like this, or like David Cronenberg’s Spider, which has another credible representation of a schizophrenic and an interesting, loopy story.

When they don’t get it right, it’s more Me, Myself and Irene or Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, which not only mangled the history of the main character who suffered with this illness, but also managed to trivialise and make magical a very real and very serious condition that not a lot of people understand.

Keane’s point isn’t to educate, or inform, but to tell a story as it quietly unfolds. I can’t say I enjoyed it, or was entertained by it, but I did find it interesting, and I do think it has an impressive performance from the lead, whom I’ve only ever seen elsewhere as one of the main officer characters in the miniseries Band of Brothers. He was good in that, and he’s good here.

If there wasn’t a scene in the film where he goes berserk whilst screaming out the lyrics to a Motown song in a bar, I would have said his performance was great. As it was, it’s just very good. I don’t know whether he spent time on public transport with lunatics or studied them in the wild, but he looks like he did his homework. He gets across the frustration, the fixation and the frenzy that sometimes typifies their lives, and he does a great job with the role.

7 times accurate depictions of mental illness scare me more than all the horror films in the world out of 10

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“My Name is William Keane, K-E-A-N-E.” – Keane

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