Keane (2005): Lodge Kerrigan’s Third, Tough Indie–Tale of Tormented Father, Superbly Played by Damian Lewis

Director Lodge Kerrigan is a maverick independent who makes personal, uncompromising films, which totally disregard viewers expectations or any other commercial consideration.

His third feature, Keane, is an intense story of a desperate father at a completely loss after his daughter had been kidnapped.

Keane movie poster.jpg

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

As tough to watch as his first film, the strikingly terrifying Clean, Shaven, but not as compelling, “Keane” is traveling the global festival road. It premiered at the Telluride Fest and then played at the Cannes Festival in the Fortnight sidebar.

However, in today’s brutal and competitive market, prospects for moderate success and positive audience response, when the film gets released by Magnolia, are slim due to the text’s tough nature and underdeveloped characterization, which is a recurrent problem in Kerrigan’s work.

There is a price to be paid for making indies straight from the heart, as the career of the talented Kerrigan shows. In thirteen years, he has made only three features: “Clean, Shaven” in 1993, “Claire Dolan” in 1998, and now “Keane,” six years later. In between, Kerrigna has worked on some projects that didn’t materialize or could not be finished.

Clean, Shaven had put Kerrigan on the indie map as a major talent to watch. However, “Claire Dolan,” which also premiered in Cannes, and was released by New Yorker, was hardly seen, and proved that Kerrigan’s films are mostly made for the festival circuit. European audiences more accustomed to esoteric and arthouse fare responded more positively than their American counterparts.

All three of Kerrigan’s films focus on a single character in a crisis situation. The novelty of “Claire Dolan” was that it centered on a woman, a prostitute whose life changes when she becomes a mother. While very different in mood and style, “Keane” is closer to “Clean, Shaven” than to “Claire Dolan,” as both films examine a paranoid man on the verge of nervous breakdown and schizophrenia.

Damian Lewis, an accomplished British actor known to American viewers for his role in the Spielberg-Hanks HBO production, “Band of Brothers,” excels as William Keane, an hysterical man, first seen in New York City’s port Authority, searching for his six-year-old daughter, who had mysteriously disappeared six month earlier.

It’s not entirely clear why the story begins half a year after the tragic abduction, or, for that matter, the reason for Keane’s long wait to go back to the scene of the crime. Perhaps we are meant to think that Keane has been going day after day to Port Authority, seeking for clues for his child’s disappearance.

The film’s first reel, like that of “Clean, Shaven,” is deliberately disorienting. The restless, hand-held camera stays very close to Keane’s face as he desperately and hysterically wanders in the streets. Utterly at a loss, he does drugs, booze, and even has a quick impersonal sex with a woman in the restroom of nightclub.

Who is Keane Defying mainstream narrative conventions, “Keane” offers only skimpy information about its middle-aged protagonist. Through bits and pieces, we gather that Keane is on disability and that he may suffer from mental illness.

The slender plot picks some momentum in the second half, after Keane meets Lynn (Amy Ryan) and her young daughter Kira (Abigail Breslin), who reside in the same sleazy and transient hotel.

A relationship of sorts evolves between Keane and Lynn, though the real tension resides in the interaction between Keane and Kira, who’s the age of his own daughter.

Keane is asked to pick up Kira from school, which he gladly does. He begins to bond with the girl, taking her to McDonald’s and ice-skating. As viewers, we don’t know what to expect or where the relationship is going.

Reversing the surrogate father-surrogate daughter relationship, Kerrigan stages a good scene in a bowling place, where Keane collapses and the young Kira assumes mature responsibility and takes him home. The event that throws this seemingly balanced order into disequilibrium is Lynn’s intent to move out of New York and join her husband, threatening to leave Keane behind.

Every aspect of the filmmaking is impressive, and John Foster’s lensing and Petra Barchi’s production design create a coherent, fittingly claustrophobic world that is enhanced by Andrew Hafitz’s tight, tension-riddled editing.

Nonetheless, Keane will prove frustrating to viewers seeking psychological motivation and full-fledged characterization.

As a figure, Keane, like the protags of “Clean, Shave” and “Claire Dolan,” remains an enigma. I have no idea who will see this film, other than a coterie of indie aficionados.

Produced by Steven Soderbergh, who’s to be congratulated for supporting truly indie directors like Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) and now Kerrigan.

Keane represents a tense, intense, sensorial cinema, whose main gratification is experiential rather than cognitive.

Despite critical raves when it played the festival circuit, including Telluride and Cannes Fest, the movie was a commercial flop, failing to recoup its budget.

Damian Lewis as William Keane
Abigail Breslin as Kira Bedik
Amy Ryan as Lynn Bedik
Christopher Evan Welch as Motel Clerk
Tina Holmes as Michelle
Liza Colón-Zayas as 1st Ticket Agent
John Tormey as 2nd Ticket Agent
Chris Bauer as Bartender
Stephen Henderson as Garage Employee

Written, directed by Lodge Kerrigan
Produced by Andrew Fierberg, Brian Bell
Written by Lodge Kerrigan
Cinematography: John Foster
Edited by: Andrew Hafitz
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
Release date: Sep. 3, 2004 (Telluride Fest) Sep. 9, 2005 (U.S.)
Running time: 100 minutes
Budget: $850,000