Keane

Runs Fri., Dec. 16–Thurs., Dec. 22, at Varsity.

It pains me to pan Keane, because I, too, cherish what made so many big-gun critics go off big-time on its behalf. Indie cinema doesn't get any more independent than the astringent nightmare visions of director Lodge Kerrigan (Clean, Shaven; Claire Dolan), and Cassavetes never had a bolder actor way out on a limb than Kerrigan has in Damian Lewis. Lewis' pale blue eyes, translucent red eyelashes, and half-ugly beauty give him an uncanny look a bit like Tilda Swinton. His taut, small mouth is bracketed by deeply incised lines that remind me of World War I trenches in aerial photos. Every inch the soldier in Band of Brothers, here he occupies a world at war within his pounding skull.

We meet Keane at the New York City Port Authority, a resonantly soulless bus terminal, pacing and sweating and ranting about a daughter he lost here six months before. The passersby he accosts shrug him off, as you would in a place where nameless men have been found frozen to the street and shish kebabbed on a snapped-off signpost (in life, not this movie). He looks like he might erupt in a paranoid frenzy and start beating someone's head in.

Kerrigan won't tell you a thing about the daughter's vanishing or fate, nor even whether she existed in the first place. Keane spends his disability checks on a fleabag SRO room. Is he nuts? Kerrigan won't say. When not uselessly sleuthing for his kid, Keane snorts coke, sleeps on highway medians, bangs a skank (Tina Holmes of Six Feet Under) in a nightclub rest room, swills booze as fast as gravity permits, and bellows at bartenders to turn up the jukebox so he can barbarically yawp along with "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" ("Leaving just your picture behind, and I've kissed it a thousand times").

When he befriends his hotel neighbors, distraught mom Lynn (Amy Ryan) and her snaggletooth-cute 7-ish daughter, Kira (promising Abigail Breslin), we see his paternal side, and wonder if and how he'll go off again. Or will he literally go off, spiriting the kid away? The pregnant question is posed, but Kerrigan isn't really interested in the answer. His movie lives for the sweaty moment, the camera constantly right up in Keane's face like a second madman obsessively following the first. The no doubt partly improvised dialogue sounds written down, much of it clumsy exposition, more of it repetitive, generic nut-speak. The authoritative mise-en-scène and fine acting could've served a story well, if there were one. As it is, Keane is a psycho-underworld tour de force like Irréversible or The Machinist, impressive as far as it goes, which isn't far, single-minded but without enough on its mind, an empty, unresolved gimmick flick. (R)

 
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