Keanu's Excellent Adventure
Is Keanu Reeves the next Clint Eastwood?
by Tom Charity
There is a short answer to that, I'm sure. I only ask because watching Keanu's latest, Constantine, he seems to think it might be the case.
We all know Keanu is no actor... Well, when I say "all", there are exceptions. His legion of fans will think differently. And presumably so do Francis Coppola (who cast him opposite Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula); Bernardo Bertolucci (who cast him as Siddharta in Little Buddha); Kenneth Branagh (who cast him in Much Ado About Nothing); and Stephen Frears (who cast him alongside John Malkovich and Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons).
Now, I wouldn't say these roles were necessarily Keanu's finest, but it takes more than good luck and excellent bone structure to work with directors of this caliber - and all these movies were made before Speed catapulted him into action A-list status. At the time - the early 90s - he was best known as Ted 'Theodore' Logan, aka 'the duke of Ted', the definition of doofus.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - and its sequel, Bogus Journey, may have been a lot smarter than it pretended to be, but the role of airhead was hard for Reeves to shake. (As for Bill - Alex Winter - he pretty much disappeared without a trace, though not before casting his pal Keanu as Ortiz the Dog Boy in his bizarre directorial debut, Freaked.)
It didn't help matters that Reeves proved hopelessly inarticulate in interviews. And that voice...When called on to suppress his mallrat drawl in classier, period roles, it seems to take all his concentration. Coupled with his generally inexpressive face, it makes for flat, one-note performances. If 'performance' is the word?
He's more relaxed in contemporary roles, as North Americans (though his parentage is English and Hawaiian-Chinese), and especially in action parts where there's plenty to do. If it's a surfing, sky-diving, shoot-em-up, he can take it in his stride. Give him a bus to drive for 90 minutes, Keanu's your man.
You get the feeling he'd have been a huge star in the silent era. He could play Valentino at a pinch. He's a good mover - witness how graceful he is going through the motions in The Matrix. He's doing martial arts moves, shooting heavy weaponry, wearing a full-length coat and dark glasses - acting in the same sterile CGI environment which stultified the talents of Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels - and he carries himself beautifully, like Gene Kelly in the rain.
What he has can't easily be explained, but let's call it charm. We don't know much about the real Keanu Reeves, except that he's private, he likes to play rock 'n' roll, and he's an ice hockey fan. How smart is he? Smart enough to turn down Speed 2. He gives every indication of being one of the good guys. He's twice paid out of his own salary to secure a better class of co-star (Gene Hackman in The Replacements; Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate). Better yet, he gave over his pay day from The Matrix grosses to the FX guys he thought deserved it more.
The charm dissipates a little in a role where he's been asked to stretch too far. He's a trier, and you can feel the strain. But he's grown in confidence as he's matured, and the assurance suits him. He's perfect as Diane Keaton's heartthrob doctor in Something's Gotta Give, and does similar small marvels in a supporting turn in the upcoming Thumbsucker. He even pulled off that against-type cameo as an abusive husband in The Gift.
Could he be the next Clint Eastwood? Don't laugh it off so quickly. He's secured a market niche in what may prove a long-lasting genre - the cyber thriller. Warners have announced there will be a Constantine sequel. And A Scanner Darkly is coming out soon.
Reeves is 40 now. At that age, Clint had been a movie star for about ten years, but no one rated him as an actor either. He had no range, they said. His spaghetti westerns were popular, but the critics sneered at them. His next picture was a little thriller by the name of Dirty Harry...
- - -
He-Babes Come Of Age
Keanu Reeves became a heartthrob in the late 1980s when he was in his early 20s. But he wasn't the only dreamboat of his generation. LOVEFiLM checks out the current status on the class of '89.
Born: 2 September 1964
First hit: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Career highs: Point Break (1991); My Own Private Idaho; Speed (1994); The Matrix (1999); Constantine (2005)
Lows: Johnny Mnemonic (1995); The Watcher (2000)
Current status: HOT