Damian Lewis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying David Keane in Keane.
Damian Lewis plays the title character. Lewis is an actor I have to say who has somehow flown under my radar for some time. Now that I'm actually starting to catch up with some of his work though I must say I'm finding him to be an immensely talented actor. This role presents a challenge as the film bares so much on Damian Lewis's performance. We follow David Keane in an intimate fashion and I mean intimate. This is even more so than in the normal character study or even the typical one man show, as the camera itself never wavers more than a few feet from him with so many of the shots staying directly on him. In the early scenes of the film we follow David just as he goes about his day. We are not given his backstory. We are instead dropped right into this man's life without any preparation. Quite simply this is where everything could have gone wrong for the film and for the central character if it was the wrong actor in the role. Luckily it is Damian Lewis who absolutely inhabits this character, which is essential given the condition of the man.
The film opens with David asking employees at a train station if they've seen his daughter. Lewis is heartbreaking from the outset as his pleas for some sort of information are harrowing. There is such a palatable desperation in his voice as he attempts to find any solace which they cannot offer him. We continue to follow the man and it becomes clear he is mentally ill. The mental illness that Lewis manages to depict is a different sort than is often focused upon in films, in fact David Keane feels more like a character we might just meet just for a scene in most films. Lewis reveals a far messier type of illness as he so effectively shows the disjointed mental state of David. Lewis never forces this rather making his randomness feel so natural. In fact Lewis is so good he is indeed rather hard to watch as he portrays the struggle for the man to keep himself together for even the most basic tasks. Lewis's physical manner, and behavior always reinforces the jumbled state of a man who struggles to think clearly.
We first follow a day in his life as David pays for his rent, buys drugs, and randomly looks for work. Lewis shows though in these actions that it even goes deeper than his mental problems, as he brings this almost constant sense of distress in the man which alludes the loss of his daughter many years ago. Lewis takes this idea through David's day as many of his acts seem an attempt to find some sort of solace. Lewis reveals a strain in David as he makes this attempt for some sort of ease whether it is using drugs, having sex with a random woman, or in one instance just trying to listen a song at a bar. Lewis is harrowing to watch as he exudes such pain in David in his futile attempt to calm his mental state. The bar song scene is especially powerful as Lewis brings such a raw desire in David as he tries to take in the song as much as he can, while still showing that it never quite brings David what he is looking for. This sort of changes when David befriends a mother (Amy Ryan) and her young daughter (Abigail Breslin).
Lewis excels in these scenes as he shows a greater comfort in David in these interactions, though the disturbed nature of the man is never forgotten. Lewis shows just a bit of ease in David, but he simply still is a mentally unwell. As he finds out more about them though, David begins to believe that the mother might be abandoning her daughter. This is unsaid yet made through Lewis's performance. Lewis conveys this as he brings the growing paranoia back to David once again, and begins to lose his stability. Lewis is terrific as he creates this as a thought in David that gradually grows, and only builds his inability to keep himself together. Lewis's work is deeply moving though in his interactions with the young girl, as he brings such a warmth as we see David as the father he was meant to be if his own daughter had not been stolen from him. Even as his intentions become problematic, since David tries to use her as a bait of sorts as he believes that the person who abducted his own daughter still frequents the same train station, Lewis strangely reveals a noble intention. Lewis only reveals a very earnest desire for some sort of closure but is given none. Lewis's work though is truly affecting though as he still reveals only the love of a father as he decides to do the right thing. This is a striking performance, and the film frankly would not have worked at all if it were not for Lewis. If for a moment this felt like acting it would all fall apart in a moments notice. Lewis's work though always feels real, and carries us through this man's troubled life.