Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2006: Keanu Reeves in A Scanner Darkly

Keanu Reeves did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly.

A Scanner Darkly is an interesting film set in the near future where drug problems have run rampant and about a detective going undercover to infiltrate the supply chain.

I suppose I should quickly address that this indeed an animated film, but since the animation directly utilized the actors physical performances it does not matter for this review. Well I will admit Keanu Reeves is not an actor I have been particularly kind to, and I don't take back my thoughts towards his performances in films like Dangerous Liaisons and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Every new performance by any actor is a new chance for the actor to potentially show some ability. Here Reeves plays the undercover detective who spends his days with a group of druggies as himself sort of, which is more than can be said when he is actually reporting to his department. In these scenes he dresses in a full body suit that distorts his image and voice in order to keep his identity a secret to almost every one even to his immediate superior. This leaves Bob in to lead a most precarious life to say the least.

This part seems almost tailored made for Reeves's particular style, which often can be problematic, but that is not the case here. Often it feels though Reeves is a non-entity and almost emotionless, but that actually makes a lot of sense for his character here. Reeves's performance makes Bob the almost non-entity he is. Reeves in a particularly effortless fashion is able to create the weird place that his character of Bob is in. On one hand when he's with the drug addicts Reeves shows that emotional distance since he is not truly one of them because he is only a cop trying to infiltrate their lifestyle. On the other hand Bob cannot find solace when he is actually as "himself" doing his job due to being in the body suit. Not only only is not himself but he is also unable to honestly communicate with everyone else who also are completely distorted. Reeves is effective as he exudes that odd place that Bob is in as he does not seem apart of any part of the world.

Reeves's particularly set of skills happen to work perfectly in his scenes where he hangs out with the other druggies Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), Ernie (Woody Harrelson) and Freck (Rory Cochrane). Where each of them are all off in their own worlds of sorts Reeves plays a double game with his technically detached performance. Reeves's is effective on one side showing the detective side of Bob as he does keep a distance from them. Of course Bob in a way gets involved in a way more than he should because he does take the drugs along with them in an attempt to seem like he is one of them. The drugs take a particularly odd toll on Bob though as he basically slowly loses himself as it works his way to becoming a shallow husk. Well for a perfect shallow husk look no further than Keanu Reeves. To be completely fair to Reeves though it is not as though Bob is has lost himself from the beginning there is a transition.

The interesting thing about Reeves's work is how he kinda moves to becoming the Reeves we all know best as the film progresses. Reeves is quite effective in portraying the way that Bob seems to lose his mind as the film plays out. Reeves, since part of what Bob loses is his emotions, is quite affecting by showing the outbursts of emotions in Bob that come out while he slowly loses moves towards becoming nothing at all. One particularly moving scene comes when he is reporting to his superior and he is told that he will actually be punished for having become addicted to drugs. Reeves is terrific in this scene as he conveys a man suddenly see everything finally close in around him and his final sudden breakdown is well performed by Reeves as he expresses basically the last bit of that's left of Bob's humanity basically. After that point Reeves brings us to Bob becoming seemingly absolutely detached from everything.

Now this certainly was good casting as Reeves is given the chance use the more problematic elements involving his acting to advantage. It is not simply that though because Reeves is not simply some sort of odd prop for story. The character arc which is showing the damaging effects of the drug abuse is fully portrayed by Reeves. The film does indeed start with Bob already starting in a bad place, but not in the worst place to be sure. There is something quite powerful in Reeves work as honestly has more than there usually is to him, and it is quite disconcerting as he slowly picks these apart from his performance. It is true that this role, a bit like Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love actually, makes Reeves's weaknesses into strengths, but Reeves does deliver past that, even if that happens to brilliantly utilized, giving a compelling portrait of a man's mental demise due to drugs.

31 comments:

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & thoughts for the rest of the cast.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit sad that you gave just a 3 to both Streep and Blunt in Prada. I would give a 4.5 to both as I thought that they were very enjoyable. I agree though that Blunt is the best part of the movie, I just like her much more. The scene where she says "I'm hearing this (making bla bla with the hand) but I'd like to hear this (closes her hand)" makes me laugh like no other.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

If Cochrane doesn't get a 1.5 or 1, I'll be very disappointed. Anyway, glad you liked him. I'd personally give him the full 5, but I also liked the movie more than you.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Wow. I really need to see this now. I actually quite like Reeves generally, he's not terrible and I never get the feeling he's slumming it, he just does things in his own way.

May I suggest you all watch him in Thumbsucker, he's an absolute riot I'm that. Also, he's an effective villain in The Gift (although Blanchett and Ribisi are by far the standouts in that)

John Smith said...

Louis, who is the better actor in your opinion Brando or Newman?

Anonymous said...

Louis I've just seen The Black Dahlia because you said that Mia Kirshner was great and I agree with you. I just would like to ask you something about her last tape scene, the one when she tells the story about her fiancèe who died in a plane crash during the war... Do you think that she was telling the truth or that she was lying? I'm not sure because she doesn't really make clear (and maybe that's the greatness of her work)

Psifonian said...

Kirshner is my #2 of all time in Supporting Actress. Virtuoso work, the sort of performance legends are made of.

Glad you dug Keanu here.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Hey Psifonian, what re your favorites of the year so far in each category?

Psifonian said...

This year, my current wins are:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Birdman, or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman, or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Best Actress: Sarah Snook – Predestination
Best Supporting Actor: Gary Poulter – Joe
Best Supporting Actress: Lindsay Duncan – Birdman, or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Best Original Screenplay: Birdman, or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Best Adapted Screenplay: Predestination
Best Animated Feature: The LEGO Movie
Best Documentary: Life Itself
Best Cinematography: Birdman, or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Best Production Design: The Zero Theorem
Best Costume Design: Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Makeup Effects: Horns
Best Visual Effects: Interstellar
Best Choreography: The Raid 2: Berandal
Best Film Editing: Birdman, or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Best Sound Mixing: Fury
Best Sound Editing: Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Score: Fury
Best Song: "Everything Is Awesome" – The LEGO Movie

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Huh, nice. Love the Gyllenhaal mention. Need to see Predestination and Joe.

Psifonian said...

Oh, they are absolutely wonderful. Snook was a delightful surprise and Poulter is in my all-time Top 15.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Harrelson - 3.5(Harrelson has the least showy out of the druggies as Ernie is technically speaking the least messed up in the head and mostly spends his time laying around talking about random things. Harrelson's work, although it has a simple purpose, is well done enlivening the film all the more, and yes he is particularly believable as layabout drug addict)

Ryder - 4.5(If something first does not succeed try again. Although the pairing of her and Reeves might not have worked in Dracula it does here. Ryder is very good in portraying the seeming desperation and emotional volatility of her character who is a cocaine addict apparently, although there is always something slightly off about her work although it is hard to put a finger on it at first. That's just a brilliantly planted seed of doubt on Ryder's part to make the twist involving her character believable, and she is quite moving in giving a wholly honest performance in her last scene)

Cochrane - 1.5(All the other actor's performances would work if the film had been kept in live action, Cochrane would not at all, and oddly seemed to know too well that his performance was going to be animated over. He is suppose to be insane anyway, but his performance is way too over the top as every reaction is more absurd than anything else. It does not work especially since he's the only performer in the film who is a cartoon)

John Smith:

Newman. He managed to achieve similair heights to Brando's best work yet never had a period in his career where he became self-indulgent or just phoned it in.

Anonymous:

I think she may have been lying in a desperate attempt to gain sympathy from the interviewer.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Seen anything new recently Louis?

Psifonian said...

Actually, according to Wikipedia:

"In Florida, Short met Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr., a decorated United States Army Air Force officer who was assigned to the 2nd Air Commando Group and in training for deployment to China Burma India Theater of Operations. Short told friends that Gordon wrote her a letter from India proposing marriage while he was recovering from injuries sustained from an airplane crash. She accepted his proposal, but Gordon died in a second airplane crash on August 10, 1945, before he could return to the United States."

Louis Morgan said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

Not yet.

Psifonian:

Well there you go. Although I'm guessing she wasn't actually murdered by a crazy family that involved a look a like that looked nothing like her.

I'd be interested to see a film more closely based on the real case with Kirshner brought back to play Short

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, I've heard that James Ellroy's book that The Black Dahlia was based on is excellent, and the movie doesn't begin to do it justice.

Matt Mustin said...

Seeing that you didn't give your thoughts on Downey, does that mean you're going to review him?

Psifonian said...

Ellroy's novels are masterful, and indeed there are elements of the film that work wonderfully . . . but De Palma's camp nature really did taint it heavily.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: He's in the running.

Psifonian:

It's a shame Curtis Hanson did not adapt that one as well, it's not like he was doing anything important at the time.

Psifonian said...

"Dahlia" boasts three masterful elements, though: Kirshner, the cinematography and the score. All of which are my wins in strong years for each category. I actually like Hartnett and Johansson (that one bad line reading aside), and Eckhart was good as well. Swank, though… no. No. Worst miscasting in years. And yeah, Fiona Shaw shoulda cranked it down a bit.

Kevin said...

@Psifonian:

I remember you mentioned Hartnett for Lucky Number Slevin, what are your thoughts on his performance?

@Louis:

What are your ratings and thoughts on Aaron Eckhart in Thank You For Smoking?

Anonymous said...

I didn't like at all Swank, Johannson and Shaw, Eckhart wasn't very good either mostly because of the script, Hartnett was okay but still a bit bland. I loved Mia Kirshner though, amazing work. The interesting thing is that even on wikipedia is says that "she told friends" that he proposed to her... She could have lied or she was deluding herself... But that's what I love about the performance, it's so captivating and mysterious and it leaves you a lot of room for interpretation.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Glad you liked Ryder in it as well. I actually consider Scanner her career best.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

What are your thoughts/ratings on the cast of Miracle of 34th Street, Louis? I'm doing a film run-up to Christmas, starting with that lovely film :D

Michael Patison said...

Saw The Hobbit last night. Full review to come on my blog in the next several days (along with month-overdue reviews of Interstellar, Nightcrawler, and Gone Girl). Here's my cast ratings for just a few of the cast members:
Freeman-4
Evans-4
Armitage-4.5 (bordering on 5)
McKellen-3.5
Stott-3.5
Gage-3
Lilly-3.5 (bordering on 4)
Pace-2 (would be 1.5 if not for his final scene)
Bloom-1.5
Connolly-3.5. (bordering on 4)

luke higham said...

Michael Patison: So glad you liked Armitage, One of my favourite supporting performances of the year.
I really hope those reviews come shortly, because I'm dying for something else to read, that is relative to this blog.

Psifonian said...

I nominate Hartnett for "Slevin," which takes my Original Screenplay win in a strong year. Such a great and underrated film.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin:

Eckhart - 4.5(The question asked about his performance is whether or not he can make it believable that the smoking lobbyist could win over a crowd over anti-smoking groups with a kid with cancer. Well Eckhart manages to make this believable with his smarmy yet overpowering charisma he has in this role. Any scene where he is fighting for smoking or coming up with scheme, whether it is silencing the Marlbolo or coming up with smoking in movies, Eckhart is exceedingly entertaining. I will admit his other scenes are a bit of a downturn from those scenes. Not that he's bad at all in the every day life scenes, he's just great when he's the lobbyist, and is merely pretty good in the rest of the film)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

You can find my thoughts on Gwenn, and Gene Lockhart in the Oscar alternate supporting years.

Payne - 3.5(Payne had a recent big boost for me when I finally watched the 94 remake the whole way through and it made me appreciate his performance all the more after seeing Dylan McDermott's charmless rendition. Payne actually manages to make his overconfidence to be fairly charming in this case, and has a bit of quite straight man comedic timing that works rather well)

O'Hara - 3(Her part is actually more limited than you might think as the film always focuses away from her really. She handles her transition from a kinda relaxed coldness to an eventual warmth well enough though)

Wood - 4(Again thank you remake. Where Mara Wilson came off as cloying and obnoxious as the little girl who's perhaps a bit too smart for her age, Wood is just about pitch perfect. The reason being although she suggests the intelligence of her character well enough she still always feels like a genuine kid never the kid's movie caricature that Wilson is)

Hall - (Ah yes the perpetual slime ball of the 30's, 40's, and 50's (except Ace in the Hole where he was the moral conscience how'd that happen?). Well there was a reason for it I guess and that is Hall's pretty good at it)

Frawley - 3.5(My favorite scenes from the film might be the ones between him and Lockhart, naturally those scenes are not in the remake. Frawley and Lockhart are delight together as they piece together what the Santa Clause trial means in terms of votes. I particularly loved the signals he gives Lockhart from the crowd)

Tonge - 3(Funny bit as the extra nervous manager. His reactions to hearing Santa Clause sending people to other stores is particularly enjoyable)

Cowan - 3.5(Unlike the remake once again, I like that the District Attorney is not portrayed as a villain rather just a guy doing his job. Cowan plays the part well as you can't help but sympathize with him as Cowan expresses the honest exasperation with dealing in such a ludicrous case)

luke higham said...

Louis: Rating & Thoughts on Richard Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street.

Louis Morgan said...

Attenborough - 3.5(The only thing I liked in the remake, but I have to admit I still did prefer Gwenn. The main reason being that he just seemed a bit more Santa Clause like whereas Attenborough feels more like just a sweet old man. Attenborough does his sweet old mine quite well though and is very charming here. He exudes such great warmth with his performance, even though the weaknesses of the film are unfortunately able to overwhelm most of his best efforts)

luke higham said...

Louis: When's the review up