Now 20 years since his debut feature, Clean, Shaven, director Lodge Kerrigan has only shot four feature length films (with an episode of Homeland to boot), but he has become as singular and intriguing a filmmaker as his generation has seen. Following up that Criterion-approved masterpiece with the solid Claire Dolan, Kerrigan took a six year hiatus between his second and third features, but thankfully, 2004’s Keane saw the auteur at his very best.
Starring Damian Lewis as the titular William Keane, Keane tells the tale of a man on the edge of sanity. William has, according to his disturbingly vivid memory, seen his marriage crumble in the wake of the abduction of his daughter some time before we meet him. With as much a focus on mental instability as seen in his debut film, Kerrigan shines his ever bright light upon the world of mental health once again for this long underrated masterpiece spearheaded by a career defining lead performance and some stunning cinematography.
Lewis is this film’s biggest star, even in the face of an auteur like Lodge Kerrigan. Best known for his work on Showtime’s beloved Homeland, Lewis is seen in just about every frame of this film, and while that may seem like a heavy load to carry and a heavy burden to put upon the shoulders of an actor within primarily the television world, Lewis is an absolute revelation. Keane, as a character, is absolutely on the edge of his own sanity, and the manic nature of the man is given a sense of truth and depth thanks to Lewis’ star-making performance. The viewer is never quite sure of Keane’s true back story (the film leaves one to wonder if his memory is true, or if it is yet another instance of his crumbling mental state following his divorce), and Lewis’ performance feels raw and true, but with that pitch perfect touch of uncertainty.
Keane then meets Lynn and her young daughter Kira, and sparks a relationship with them, adding yet another layer to an ever deepening web of drama. Amy Ryan is superb as Lynn, a single mother who becomes intertwined in Keane’s kinetic world. However, the show is stolen by young Abigail Breslin, who not only adds an ultimately devastating sense of heart to the picture, but makes the film even more thematically interesting. Fawned over by Keane as arguably his daughter’s proxy, the pair have an often troubling relationship, that ultimately proves to pack a wallop of an emotional punch. All three performances encompass the majority of the cast, and are more than superb.
Thankfully, Kerrigan is on the top of his game as well. The logical next step for a man as focused on brazen, almost experimental, realism, Keane feels less anarchic than his previous works, but feels all the more intimate. Featuring claustrophobic camera work and an ever moving frame, Kerrigan gets gritty and cold photography from the Independent Spirit Award-nominated John Foster that feels like a gloomy winter day in that part of New York that gets you a little more tense when entering. Ultimately full of heart breaking vitality, Kerrigan’s frame is kinetic and often in as tight as one could ever handle, adding to the film’s overall sense of instability and sadness.
The film’s production is also quite interesting. Billed as a film presented to us by Steven Soderbergh, Kerrigan showed an early cut of the film to the director, who, for the home video release (of which there is copies currently available, although not on Blu-ray) added his own cut of the film that is a tad more straightforward (or at least reviews of the DVD have one believe, as Kerrigan’s cut is the version currently available on Netflix Watch Instant).
Now, where could a Criterion Collection release grow? Soderbergh is featured on Criterion’s release of Kerrigan’s first feature, as a commentary finds him interviewing the auteur, so not only could both cuts be available, but a commentary sounds truly exciting. Clean, Shaven itself could stand for a Blu-ray upgrade, and with all three of Keane’s leads now as popular as any actors around, a retrospective could be exciting. Toss in a film that deserves a new audio and visual transfer, this could be one hell of a Blu-ray release from the mighty Criterion Collection.
Overall, while Keane lacks the boundary pushing experimentation that made Kerrigan’s debut the body blow to the senses that it became, Keane is a breathtaking masterwork that leaves you, by the film’s final frame, absolutely moved. A truly superb film from one of today’s most intriguing, and sadly unsung, filmmakers, this deserves a place in the ranks of The Criterion Collection.