Believe it or not, Keanu Reeves turned fifty-one yesterday and while you might not have noticed, he’s been busier than ever. Reeves is a unique sort of celebrity, humble and free-spirited, and much more interested in doing what he wants to do than doing something for the cash. Many actors, after finding fortune and success, lead extravagant lives that keep them in the vicious cycle of mediocre Hollywood blockbusters in order to fund their lifestyles, but Reeves lives simply and that gives him the freedom he wants to choose the projects he likes. He usually does at least one movie a year, if not more, with four scheduled for released in 2016 and an unscheduled John Wick sequel in the works. Its a good time to be Keanu Reeves, and despite what you might think about his acting talents or lack thereof, you have to admit that he does what he does better than anyone else.
John Wick (2014)
I grabbed this one from a Redbox on a whim and absolutely loved it. I was looking for a dumb, fun movie and John Wick absolutely delivers. And while it is an awesome action movie, its also low budget enough to be kind of artsy and cerebral at times. Reeves plays the title character, a man who has just lost his wife and is trying to heal when some young hooligans steal his car and kill his dog. It turns out that John Wick is a former hitman who is sent on a vengeful path to kill his former boss’s son for the offense. The following feels like a non-stop action scene, with one stylishly and creatively choreographed fight after another. I was very happy to hear that John Wick was meant to be a trilogy and am looking forward to the next installment.
The Matrix (1999)
This is a pretty obvious one, especially for someone of my generation. The Matrix was the movie of the decade for many of my peers, filled with over-the-top fight scenes, unique characters played by noteworthy actors, overbearing religious symbolism, and a dystopian future setting. Reeves was beyond perfect as humanity’s savior Neo, playing him with a deadpan and slightly-too-understated style that set him apart from everyone else. I think most of us can agree that The Matrix was like nothing else for the time and that the sequels kind of soured the fanbase. Like with most things the Wachowskis undertake, they went way over the top for the sequels, all garish style and campy substance. I also can’t forgive them for fostering an entire generation of Neo-coat wearing weirdos. If you’re not in the Matrix, that outfit just looks weird – especially if you’re a high schooler.
This is one of the best over-the-top action movies around, with the ridiculous premise that a crazy guy (obviously played by Dennis Hopper) rigs a bus to explode if it goes under fifty miles an hour. I can’t really remember why, but I think it was either a ransom scheme or a distraction tactic. In any case, Keanu Reeves is the policeman who boards the bus and keeps it going, working with Sandra Bullock to dodge the obstacles and figure out how to get everyone to safety. Apparently much of the dialogue and some other aspects of the script was written by the uncredited Joss Whedon, so there’s that to like about it as well. And just so you know what kind of guy Reeves is, he turned down the crappy sequel.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
This is such a weird movie. Its weird, and twisted, and darkly funny, and completely discomfiting, and highly underrated. Reeves plays a lawyer, Kevin Lomax, who gets seduced by the glamours of a high powered New York City law firm. He is mentored by a man named John Milton (Al Pacino) who encourages Kevin to follow his vanity, neglecting his wife and making dubious moral choices in the process. The movie is peppered with demonic imagery and discussions of God vs. the Devil, fate vs. free will, and good vs. evil. In the end, the movie takes a weird turn as Milton is revealed to be both Kevin’s father and the Devil himself.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see Keanu Reeves do Shakespeare? If you have, you’re kind of weird. But good news, because this is something that actually exists, although I don’t know how Reeves ever managed to get the part. To be fair, this is a Kenneth Branagh production of a Shakespeare play, so everything is a little weird. Thank God for small favors and Emma Thompson. In any case, Reeves plays the taciturn, moody, and scheming Don John, half brother to the hero Don Pedro (Denzel Washington). Don John makes mischief for fun, jealous of the love held for his brother and petulantly plots to ruin the revelry. Thankfully, Reeves doesn’t have much to say and spends most his time looking dark and brooding – something he does exceptionally well.
This is another weird movie and actually kind of bad overall. There is something compelling about this adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel however, something in the combination of its cast, its sensuous vision, and its dedication to the text that makes it stick in the mind. Not only does Reeves play one of the young heroes, Jonathan Harker, but his castmates include Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, Gary Oldman as Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina, and Tom Waits as Renfield, among many others. Reeves plays Harker with a quiet desperation and a dark intensity, contrasting wonderfully with Hopkins’ careless and mercurial mirth. I remember one scene in particular in which Harker bears his soul to Van Helsing as they sit to dinner, Van Helsing casually dedicating his attention to the steak he’s eating, distractedly reassuring Harker as he tells his story. If nothing else, this adaptation has a thick vein of darkly absurd humor.