Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Strange Case of the Fish in the Internets

Okay, so I guess I was naive. The first time a couple days ago I heard that Keanu Reeves was to be casted in the new Jekyll and Hyde film, I thought it was amazingly brilliant casting and that this could possibly turn out to be his best performance ever in which he finally shows the world what he can do and has been doing all these years despite them refusing to see it.

Naturally - though I have no idea how - I had forgotten about the fish. (For the uninitiated, -> A Database of Fish) All of them out there in their little ponds all over the Internet, making highly unoriginal comments about how the actor with no personality was going to be portraying a character with two, taking the usual digs at his perceived lack of range, and bringing up the ever-present Bram Stoker's Dracula of 1992 to prove their points.

What I find deeply ironic is how, from their statements, these were a mixture of Tedfish and Neofish - the folks who insist that Keanu always plays Ted, and the ones who insist that he always plays Neo. These were the people simultaneously complaining in each others' presence that Keanu plays the same character in every one of his films. The irony kills me.

I've said it before, and I'll continue to stand firm by my belief that - from my point of view as a writer - Keanu has one of the widest range of characters I've seen in any actor, and I have no idea how so few other people are able to see it.

Admittedly, most of them have barely watched any of his films despite thinking that they have. For the record, mathematically-speaking, you have only seen "most" of Keanu's films if you've seen more than 27 of them (and this is excluding his short films and TV work), which I'm pretty sure would make you some sort of fan whether or not you wish to admit it. I don't know many people who would sit through more than 27 films of an actor whose acting they claim to despise.

I read Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" a few years ago and loved it, and I honestly think that Keanu can pull it off, and do it well. He might not, depending on the script and direction. But I believe he could. The potential is definitely there. He's practically based a large part of his career off Jekyll-like characters: tormented, conflicted good people - River's Edge, Under the Influence, Hardball, Constantine, and a bunch of other roles that I shan't list for spatial reasons - and he's shown himself also capable of portraying a far darker, violent side; someone recently mentioned how all his best performances involved characters who had some sort of dark streak. - Speaking of which, I just watched The Gift. Uneven performance near the start but the courtroom scene was brilliant. Methinks Hyde is kind of like Donnie Barksdale on steroids.

(In a recent article, someone said that they thought Keanu would do fine as Hyde and that it would be Dr. Jekyll who would pose him the real challenge, seeing as how he's a scientist and all. 'cuz scientists are, lyk, smart, y'know, and kanu is, lyk, totally dum, hahahahahahaha SHUT THE FISH UP.)

As noted film critic Roger Ebert once pointed out:

"To look at a list of [Keanu's] roles is to wonder how the directors of half his movies could have visualized him in the other half, and vice versa. This is the actor who made two of the most harrowing films of all time about teenage angst, "River's Edge" (1986) and "Permanent Record" (1988). And the same actor who played one of the key predecessors of the dumb-and-dumber movement, in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989) and "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" (1991). The same actor who was an average, if troubled, teen in "Parenthood" (1989) and an 18th century rake in "Dangerous Liaisons" (1989) and a male hustler in "My Own Private Idaho" (1991)."

(source: "On the Set: Checking out Chain Reaction in Chicago")

Roger Ebert said that, and he's one of the most famous film critics in the world. He should know his stuff.

So much for Keanu's supposed one-note identical performances in which he "always plays himself/Neo/Ted/braindead robot on drugs/a tree". His filmography - and the roles he has taken on with varying degrees of success - is seriously diverse, and any unbiased viewer should be able to see that.

Keanu has been repeatedly typecast as two very different kinds of characters, as anyone familiar with his critics will know. There's the party (Tedfish genus) whose idea of Keanu is of some spaced-out blissed-out effervescent stoner with a single-digit IQ who can't be taken seriously and says 'whoa' a lot, and there's the party (Neofish genus) whose idea of Keanu is of some expresionless monotone depressed robot with no sense of humour who says 'whoa' a lot.

If that's not split-personality, I don't know what is.

I've long been dying to know what would happen to critics if Keanu were to play those two typecasts in a single film, and while the Jekyll and Hyde roles don't exactly call for either Neo or Ted, Keanu has definitely shown himself capable of such a contrast, as the critics unwittingly prove every day.

This is the actor whom director Pat O'Connor once called "a study in contradictions" ("Keanu - the enigma"), an opinion repeatedly reinforced by many a person who has met him:

Reeves strikes me, at this point, almost precisely the way he does in movies - a guy so tangled up in contradictions that even if he'd like to spill the beans, he couldn't find the can opener.
- "Doin' time on planet Keanu"

In interviews Reeves rambles like he really is the stoned Ted of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Or a rather smart man whose inarticulate pronouncements are a smokescreen to protect his privacy. There are journalists who swear he's an oaf and there are journalists who swear he's a genius of prevarication.
- "Keanu - the enigma"

There is the neatly dressed, well-scrubbed, polite Keanu. There is the cranky T-shirt-and-jeans wearing, road-weary biker, and there is the ponderous, soul-searching surfer poet, not to mention the scruffy, unshaven Big Star actor trying to escape his innate prettyboyness.
- "The sum of his parts"

Keanu's rather extraordinary contradictions go a long way towards summing him up as an actor. He became well-known for playing a Whoa! Dude!-type character in the Bill & Ted movies - but possesses an intense sensitivity that has infused his best film incarnations with an empathetic vulnerability. He hates giving interviews - but once he loosens up has more to say than your average movie star. He is interested in working on a wide range of characters, not just rehashing the same old stuff: take the cocky, talented, fast-talking lawyer Keanu plays in Devil's Advocate - he's light years away from the taciturn and tough cop who stops the bus in the global blockbuster Speed.
- "Devil in Disguise"


That aside, what I'm afraid of here is that the film will take the special-effects extravaganza route and leave little room for the split-personality thing to be conveyed through acting rather than CGI; this would be my view regardless of whether or not Keanu were in the role. The fact that this film is meant to be a modernisation of the tale might seem to indicate some degree of that might be happening, but the script writer is apparently the sort who steers away from that kind of thing, so there may yet be hope.

To end off, I leave you with this extract from Chris Heath's 2000 Keanu article "The Quiet Man":

I ask him what he was like when he was young.

"Private," he says. "Probably a pretty private kid."

Private how? Kids are usually pretty social.

"I was pretty social, too," he says.

Private but pretty social?

"Yeah." He half-smiles. "It's a particle, it's a wave."


Xeus said...

Love your discourse, Anakin. Fish will always be fish, just as I will always detest Russell Crowe, no matter how brilliant an actor he is.

Just wanted to say that someone claimed he read the script on one of the fanboy boards, and it's a contemporary retelling of Jekyll, not the 19th century version with del Toro will likely do. This Jekyll script is very dark, very twisted and very brilliant. This person claims that he rarely is afraid by the story in scripts, but this one scared him and left an eerie aftertaste.

He thinks Keanu can pull it off.

anivad said...

Wow, that's great. I'd been disappointed at the lack of del Toro's involvement in this version because I love the dark twisted-ness of his films, but if this one manages to carry that tone even in a modern setting, my hopes are definitely back up script-wise.

Do you have a link to that board, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Anakin!

I wish people would read this, especially critics like that blogger in the Guardian, Ben Childs, and then re-think what kind of drivel they put on their site.

It's one thing to criticize, another to put someone down just because one feels superior. As you so rightfully pointed out, those thinking themselves to be above Keanu, often lack basic knowledge of so many things, be it spelling, grammar, or Keanu's movies.

PS: There's a TED in my verification code!

Xeus said...

it's actually at first showing net

Br0nz18 said...

It is almost un-Aussie to admit, but I am so glad that there rae others who really don't like Russell Crowe!
One of the things I like best about Keanu is his versatility and his willingness to try a diveristy of roles.

GwennieFRP said...

*stands and applauds*

I was riveted by your piece here. You have hit the perverbial nail on the head in describing Keanu Reeves and his abilities. For whatever reason, people cannot seem to get past the fact that he's willing to take on something and "doesn't care what people think" about his acting. He's in it for the sheer joy of performing in a job that he loves.

And yes, his range is amazing. You watch him in Bill and Ted or even A Walk In The Clouds, one of my personal favorites and then you watch him in The Gift or The Watcher and my blood runs cold. He is actually frightening and he pulls it off with that devil may care sass. Yes, he has taken some parts he should have said no to, but, those parts helped him to grow as an actor and as a person.

Keanu Reeves gets the parts he gets because directors and producers see something in him that others refuse to see. Depth and tenacity to take on a part and research it and live it to where it becomes second nature. He is the only actor I've ever read about that learns everything he can about the type of person he is going to play.

HE IS AMAZING!!! Thank you for writing such an informative piece and putting it out there. It's good to know I'm not the only person appreciative of his work.

Gotta love the man.

Anonymous said...

I read the blog about Keanu in the Guardian. I wish I could post a reply. It doesn't make sense to write a blog on Keanu's 'inability' to portray a character with a split personality without seeing the movie. He may be right but he needs something to back up his claim. As he hasn't seen Keanu play the role he has nothing to comment on. How does he know Keanu can't pull it off? Keanu's performance in Dracula and Keanu's six Razzie Nominations are the examples he used to prove his point. It doesn't mean anything.
He may be right about Keanu's inability to pull off playing Dr Jekyll but Keanu may also prove him wrong. Until he has seen the movie he has NOTHING to support his comments.