Film Review (UK), October 2003
He's the One
He is the new messiah, the man, the man destined to rich humanity of the tyranny of the machines. His name is Keanu Reeves and as Anwar Brett discovers...
Even Keanu Reeves's greatest fans would never suggest that their hero has a flawless track record when it comes to choosing his films. The 39-year-old star of The Matrix trilogy has enjoyed as many downs as ups in his screen career since emerging in the Eighties with River's Edge and the cult hit Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
For every Matrix there's a Johnny Mnemonic, for every Speed there has to be a Sweet November. So he's not infallible. But when he's good, he's very good indeed. And it seems when he is set a challenge he responds to it with gusto. Casting him as Thomas Anderson in The Matrix four years ago, the Wachowski Brothers offered the actor a piece of movie immortality. Returning for the record-breaking sequel meant a punishing regime before a foot of film was shot.
"Basically it starts with four months of training," he explains, "just stretching, kicking and punching. And then you get into choreography, and that's when you get ready to put the dance together. The reason we do all this is so that we can participate in the physical action.
"If you can get close and see the actors performing the kung fu fights or any of the action sequences, just like any normal scene... If you can be there and see us doing what we're doing, then hopefully your experience of watching the film will be enhanced because you can relate to the character all the more. That's why we do it, and for me it's one of the most enjoyable aspects. It's good fun."
Given this obvious enthusiasm there were few doubts that he would sign up for the sequels when they were first mooted.
"I loved the material," he nods, "when I first read it and was excited by that script, and then the experience of making the film was a great one. And when it came round to making the trilogy, I just signed on board without reading the scripts because of the experience I have - and the trust that I have - in the directors.
"I had a great experience making The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. It's great that people are coming out to the films and that they enjoy them. I hope that people really get something out of them. I think they offer a lot and they're full of hope, you know."
While the Wachowski Brothers maintain a certain mystery about themselves, rarely doing interviews, Reeves reveals the intensity of their directorial style. "They are very, very specific in terms of what you're doing and how you do it. It's all about getting their ideas to come across in the manner in which they want them to. They're very specific with their direction in order to achieve that."
Thanks to them, Keanu is an integral part of a screen phenomenon now. But there is every indication that he is less turned on by the commercial consequences of this than the cult coolness of it all. As Neo he is a marquee name, yet with the sort of self-awareness that his character has been forced to adopt Keanu himself cannot hide from the occasional turkey that has crossed his career path.
"The amount of interest I take in box office is different with each picture," he shrugs, adding, "but as far as this experience goes I'm really excited about it. I want to participate in it as much as I can. So I'm watching it, seeing what's going on and how people are responding to it and I'm interested in how they're reacting to it.
"Just as a way of trying to soak in this exceptional experience for me, I really hope that people enjoy the films. I think the scripts are fantastic and I think Reloaded is a great film. I just hope that people can enjoy it."
Espousing an imaginative - some say ludicrous - premise, the Matrix films have been analysed in intricate detail by fans, critics and philosophers alike. Some may even come to look to this entertaining fiction for answers to some very real problems. As an active participant in them, you might think Keanu Reeves has the fast track to life according to The Matrix. Healthily he claims not to and admits that he is too close to the whole experience to have any objective thoughts about the series that changed the way we view films and - perhaps - look at the world.
"I'm still finding out what I've taken from these films," he says. "I know that it was an incredible role and I got to work with some really great people. And besides all that I was able to participate in helping to create a film that I love so much."