Here’s what Our Patron Saint of Being Excellent had to offer this year and a look at what’s to come in 2017.
It was an especially dreary Saturday afternoon in New York City. The early October weather had turned cold and stormy as the last wisps of Hurricane Matthew blew through the city smack dab in the middle of Comic-Con weekend. I was forcing myself to chew through a stale $6 pretzel as I made the short walk between the Javitz Center and The Theater at Madison Square Garden. I had no idea what to expect from the panel I was set to attend, I hoped it would be enough for an article, but I knew deep down that even a sizzle reel for John Wick: Chapter 2 would be better than nothing.
The theater was jam-packed with cheering fans, eagerly awaiting their chance to see early footage and hear from the stars of the film. Finally, the lights dimmed and we were treated to a sizzle reel, a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of John Wick: Chapter 2, as well as the premiere of the film’s first trailer. Keanu Reeves was back in action as the deadly assassin, taking out goons in New York and Rome in a slick suit without ruffling a single hair out of place. When Reeves came out to greet the roaring crowd, he was gracious and charming. Despite years of success, he truly seemed surprised by the reception for John Wick and the demand that greenlit it’s subsequent sequel.
But the hype, of course, is familiar for Reeves as John Wick is his third iconic film character, after Ted Logan from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and of course Neo from The Matrix. He’s been John Constantine, Johnny Utah and Johnny Mnemonic; he’s battled Dracula and stopped a bus from exploding; he’s been a heartthrob and a hero. Reeves’ career is an incredible one to look at in retrospect. For every beloved or blockbuster role there are a handful of independent projects, quieter roles where Reeves has been able to experiment with characters, showcase his sharp comedic talent and add even more depth to his subtle but intuitive talent – the one often glossed over or laughed off in favor of a perceived surfer persona.
But even in earlier roles Reeves’ talent is evident and undeniable, planting the seeds for the stardom and success that would also hamstring him in the public’s view as simply an action star. In River’s Edge, he’s able to ground the film, balancing Crispin Glover’s raucous performance as Layne with his Matt, tortured over the indifference of his peers to the murder of their friend. In what could have been a throwaway role, Reeves is able to project a complicated cacophony of emotions, filling out the sensitive but still effortlessly cool Matt as he also grapples with a chaotic home life and a younger brother headed for a dark future.
In Gus Van Sant’s wandering love story My Own Private Idaho, Reeves plays Scott Favor, son of Portland’s mayor and heir to the manor born, who slums it on the streets playing gay for pay with a pack of scrappy street hustlers. The film centers on the unrequited love carried by his best friend Mike Waters (River Phoenix), which Scott denies, eventually turning his back on Mike and his former life in favor of his inheritance and a woman he meets in Italy. Phoenix has never been better as the narcoleptic street hustler, unanimously winning the Volpi Cup at the 1991 Venice Film Festival.
But Reeves’ performance is often overlooked, without the consideration that his Scott is part of what feeds the lauded performance from Phoenix. Critiques that Reeves stumbles over the Shakespearean dialogue fail to consider that the lines are as false as Scott’s street persona. Reeves is the perfect Prince Hal, casting off his former life and an undeniable love to keep up appearances. Scott is superficial and conflicted; with him, Reeves helps anchors the film. But his sharp turn as Scott is often forgotten in favor of his role in another 1991 film: Point Break. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Reeves often lamented that he would only be remembered for playing Ted, the lovable airhead.
While Reeves’ long and varied career offers plenty of forgotten or overlooked gems, 2016 has also been no exception with Reeves churning out several projects in addition to the highly anticipated John Wick: Chapter 2 footage released at New York Comic-Con and in the second trailer released just a week ago. So here’s what Our Patron Saint of Being Excellent had to offer this year – from cameos, to lead roles and documentaries – and some of what we can expect in 2017.
The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn’s highly anticipated glam-horror thriller follows aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she navigates the ruthless fashion industry, wowing some with her beauty and “it” factor and making several deadly enemies along the way. It’s an obvious but visually stunning critique of society’s cyclical consumption and superficial idolization of youth and beauty but it also holds a surprise cameo by Reeves as Hank, a gruff and sinister motel owner who menaces and threatens Jesse. It’s an out of character but effective turn for Reeves who oozes danger and dark eroticism in a terrifying dream sequence before finally driving Jesse away for good.
“Clarence, it’s me, Keanu. Meow.”
It’s only natural that a film centering on the quest to reclaim a lost kitten named Keanu feature a cameo by the man in question. Although the Key and Peele led comedy also features a hilarious, and now oddly poignant, tribute to George Michael, Reeves sneaks in a brief but satisfying vocal cameo as the most wanted kitten in the world. When Reeves heard about Keanu, he got in touch with production and offered his services, giving us another dream sequence to remember.
The Whole Truth
The New Orleans based courtroom drama centers on what should be an open and shut case: a son is accused of killing his abusive father, with Reeves as the lawyer struggling to defend him. But the film, which also features Jim Belushi, Renée Zellweger and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, slowly reveals each character’s secrets as flashbacks are woven into the courtroom testimony. Some twists are unexpected and some hinted at until finally, after the verdict has been delivered, we’re given the truth behind the murder, which still manages to pack a punch. Although the pacing is uneven and the court scenes not nearly as compelling as those Reeves is able to strut around in during The Devil’s Advocate, the film’s final shock makes it a worthwhile watch.
Initially, Exposed was a bi-lingual, surrealistic thriller called Daughter of God, which married elements of Pan’s Labyrinth and Irreversible. There are still hints of this throughout the film when the focus is on Isabel (Ana de Armas), a deeply religious woman with a dark past that eventually culminates in her seeing and experiencing the impossible. Isabel also holds the key to the death of Detective Galban’s (Reeves) partner, a corrupt NYPD detective with more than one secret threatening to come to the surface. With the addition of Reeves, Lionsgate shifted the focus of the film from Isabel and changed it into more of a police thriller. Exposed isn’t a bad film but it definitely is hampered by this duality, often feeling like two uneven films at once. It is worth a watch for de Armas’ compelling Isabel and the way the two storylines finally weave together for a dark ending.
Mifune: The Last Samurai
Steve Okazaki’s documentary utilizes film clips as well as interviews with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to explore to extraordinary career and legacy of Toshiro Mifune, best known for his collaborations with director Akira Kurosawa. Reeves narrated the documentary which was part of our Mifune tribute earlier this year: https://filmschoolrejects.com/toshiro-mifune-tribute-351e6a5cfdfd#.c5rl90bsj
The Bad Batch
Ana Lily Amirpour made a splash in 2014 with her monochrome Iranian vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Bad Batch is a dystopian love story set in Texas and filled with cannibals and some high profile cameos, including Jim Carrey, Diego Luna and Reeves as The Dream. It won the Special Jury prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where it had its world premiere, and also screened at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest in Austin. The Bad Batch is set to hit theaters in the first quarter of 2017.
John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have been working with Reeves on an TV adaptation of Barry Eisler’s John Rain book series, which was optioned by Cinemax. Rain is a half-Japanese, half-American assassin who kills his marks and makes their deaths look like natural causes and the series should be in the same vein as John Wick. There isn’t much new news on the status of the series, although IMDB does list is as a 2016 production. If released in 2017, it would mark Reeves’ first foray into television and should be a nice compliment to the release of John Wick: Chapter 2 in February. Fingers crossed!
To the Bone
Reeves stars as Dr. William Beckham, an unconventional doctor who helps Ellen (Lily Collins), a young woman dealing with anorexia fight her disease and embrace life. The film is expected in August 2017.
Reeves returns to the sci-fi/thriller genre as a scientist obsessed with bringing back his family after they die in a traffic accident. The film also stars Alice Eve and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch and is currently in post-production for a 2017 release.
John Wick: Chapter 2
Of course Reeves’ most anticipated project in 2017 is the return of dog lover and kickass assassin, John Wick. The surprise hit of 2014 returns for a second installment, adding a slew of new faces including Common, Ruby Rose as well as Reeves’ Matrix co-star, Laurence Fishburn. John Wick: Chapter 2 will give us a deeper look into the world of assassins that Wick previously left behind, including the blood oath that Wick took to secure his retirement. With Wick back in action after the events of the first film, someone will come calling to collect this debt. If we learned anything from the first time around, it’s John Wick is bad at retiring and above all, do not fuck with his new dog. John Wick: Chapter 2 hits theaters on February 10, 2017.