Film School Rejects (US), December 13, 2008

Shouting Match: Keanu Reeves, Thespian?

by Josh Radde

At Film School Rejects, we like to have the final word, even when we’re arguing with ourselves. Although mostly, we just like to yell the loudest. We figured we should channel that energy into a new feature we like to call “Shouting Match.” This week’s contenders? Josh Radde and Adam Sweeney. This week’s point of contention: Keanu Reeves, Thespian?

Opening Statements

Josh Radde: Deny thy critic and refuse thy fanboy. What’s in a name? A Keanu Reeves by any other name would still be as SWEET. With the release of The Day the Earth Stood Still this Friday, I think its provided us with a great opportunity to look back on the actor’s career and “accomplishments.” Reeves shot on to the national stage over 20 years ago with the crime drama River’s Edge. He also found prominent roles in Dangerous Liaisons and in 1989 hit it big with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Keanu Reeves has stayed relevant for 20 years, yet no one would consider him a great actor. I’m not prepared to say that he is a great actor in a traditional sense, but I will say that he’s had a great career. Simply put, Keanu Reeves is one of the most important actors of our generation.

Once your done chuckling at my statement Adam, please tell me why I’m off base.

Adam Sweeney: Shall I call you Josh Shakespeare for this debate? The very thought of Keanu Reeves fumbling his way through a Shakespearean piece, as he did in Much Ado About Nothing, is a tragedy in itself. “Whoa is me, I know Kung Fu.” While it easy for us to remember Keanu’s triumphs like The Matrix it is important to remember the many lacking films he has made along the way. How quickly we have forgotten Johnny Mnemonic, Chain Reaction and even he lost the Midas touch in Matrix: Revolutions. If you were to list the greatest careers of actors in film history I am not sure I’d put Mr. Reeves in the top tier. I think we need to define what makes an actor great before we move forward. If it’s acting ability then I would rank Keanu next to a young Jonathan Lipnicki, maybe even giving Lipnicki the edge. If it’s the ability to choose certain films that find an audience during that particular time period then I would agree Keanu matters. But let’s not throw the word great out so quickly. The guy did star in The Watcher and Hard Ball, a bastardized version of The Bad News Bears.


The Rebuttal

Josh: Bill & Ted’s = Great
Speed = Great
The Matrix = Great
Point Break = GREAT

Sure, he’s made some poor choices like The Lake House and The Replacements, but he’s done a lot of good work in smaller roles as well. The Gift is a damn good movie. Dracula is pretty good. He was charming in Somethings Gotta Give. Go check out Street Kings, it’s actually a really solid movie. Constantine and Devil’s Advocate are decent, if not fun to watch when you’re drunk (Charlize Theron’s boobies make a sublime cameo as well). But the four that I mentioned above are essentials from the past two decades. I’ll never say that he’s a great actor, but he’s a bona fide movie star that’s had movies that appeal to a wide variety of movie fans. Sure, he’s made some crap, but no more than John Cusack makes every year.

Adam: What do all of the four of his “great” films have in common? None really required true displays of acting range. You could possibly even argue that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is his best part. Why? Because it plays to his strength, playing a dimwit. Even in The Matrix the best I could say about him was, ‘well, he wasn’t shitty this time.’ I still contest that in Matrix Revolutions the reason they blinded Neo before Trinity died is because Keanu couldn’t cry on command. Just saying. Reeves doesn’t stand out to me as a great actor for many reasons, but one is that he isn’t an actor I get excited about seeing in films. When I hear Denzel Washington or Christian Bale has a new film out I am interested. When I hear Keanu has a new flick out I ask, “is it called Dude, where’s my accent?” You bring up Dracula but his performance was arguably the worst part of the film. And while I do like The Devil’s Advocate, mainly for Al Pacino’s great role, Reeves is the real boob in the film. Sorry, Charlize, you’ll just have to deal with it. (And you call them boobies, really?) Alas, that is another debate for another day.

The question at hand is ‘is Keanu Reeves a great actor’, not ‘has Keanu Reeves made four great films in 20 years.” The biggest accomplishment of his career may be that he was smart enough to not do Speed 2. This is an actor who has been nominated for 7 Razzie Awards. That’s Steven Seagal territory. But maybe he is a great actor, he has been nominated for a shit load of MTV Movie Awards. That’s gotta count for something right? *Cough*

Closing Arguments

Josh: You seem to be forgetting my thesis here, Sweeney. I’m not arguing that Reeves is a good actor (and for clarification, his best performance is in Speed, he really brings the tension to a boiling point), but that his career is important. Meaning, I can’t see anyone else in the role of Neo. Will Smith reportedly turned that role down, and dare I say it’s a better movie with Keanu than it would’ve been with Smith (who opted to do Wild Wild West instead). The sequels were bloated and up their own asses, but that’s more the Wachowskis’ fault than Keanu’s. Also, not many actors get to contribute 4 great films over the span of 20 years. It may seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s a rarity. I can sit down any given day and watch a handful of Keanu Reeves movies–not because he’s an actor with excellent range–because he brings everything he can to every single performance. He sells Point Break with his commitment to the absurdity of it. He makes a ridiculous concept like a bomb on a bus work by treating it like its truly life and death. He may have Razzies up the wazz and Golden Popcorn out his ear, but I’ll never be able to laugh off a Keanu Reeves performance. We owe him the same respect he shows for film. Sometimes, he can portray some raw emotion–I submit this scene from Hard Ball. Sure, it’s not a “good” movie, but try denying that Keanu can tug those heartstrings (”I swear I was lifted in that moment to a better place. I swear, he lifted the world in that moment”).

I dunno, call me crazy, but I’d rather watch Keanu ham it up in Bill & Ted’s than watch Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance in the snoozer Capote any day.

Adam: “Josh, that YouTube clip made me a better person … even if just for that moment. I am forever grateful to you for that.” Allow me to call your YouTube clip and raise you his greatest acting clip ever … his role in a Corn Flakes commercial. Look at him savor the goodness that is breakfast. I swear, he IS the cereal! Okay, let me wash away the layer of sarcasm and get real for a minute. You offer a comparison to Will Smith and argue how difficult it is to make 4 great films in a span of 20 years. Would you say that Reeves’ 4 performances compare to Smith’s in Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, Six Degrees of Separation, and Independence Day? (I bring Independence Day up because it isn’t by the most strict definition a great film, like Point Break, but at the time it was released was an entertaining action film) Reeves reaped the rewards of good scripts and actors around him. When I think of The Matrix I think of Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne. When I think of Point Break I think of Patrick Swayze’s performance (mullet). When I think of Speed I think of Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper, and when I think of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I, of course, think of Missy, Bill’s hot mom. Okay, I am kidding about the last one but the rest show how Reeves, a leading man because of good looks more than anything else, gets outshined by supporting characters. That doesn’t happen with truly important actors. Reeves only succeeds when he has a world of talent and action or entertainment around him. Capote may have been fun to watch with Keanu in it, if only to play a drinking game to how many times he broke character. And you may be the only person on Earth that has used Bill & Ted to show an actor’s importance. You’re a brave man, Josh. Yes, The Matrix is important but Point Break? Come on …

Keanu Reeves has had a fun career. He has tried to be a good actor, but allow me to go Yoda on you for a second. “Do or do not, there is no try.” We don’t hand out praise at Film School Rejects for effort like we’re the YMCA. Now hit the showers, Josh. I will be waiting outside to hand you and Keanu your orange slices. Excellent!

Josh: Who watches Ali anymore? Also, no one has ever won an argument with me by quoting Yoda. S’all I’m sayin’.

Final Verdict

Round and round we go. Is Keanu an actor’s actor? Nobody knows. Maybe we should let all of you decide in the comment section below...

Article with pictures + comments


Day the Earth Stood Still, The , River's Edge , Dangerous Liaisons , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure , Much Ado About Nothing , Matrix, The , Johnny Mnemonic , Chain Reaction , Matrix Revolutions, The , Watcher, The , Hardball , Speed , Point Break , Lake House, The , Replacements, The , Gift, The , Bram Stoker's Dracula , Something's Gotta Give , Street Kings , Constantine , Devil's Advocate, The , Speed 2

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