Keanu Reeves's ten greatest films
Ahead of the release of his 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' remake, Time Out looks back at some of the important moments in the career of Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves: A life...Half Maori, half Nepalese, half Welsh – cinema’s most beautiful uncomprehending man-child was blessed with the determination, temperament and dark, flashing good looks to take Hollywood by storm. Unfortunately, a startling inability to tell shit from shinola meant that, although he couldn’t help but accidentally wander into the odd great role, the choice of projects to which he would bend his peculiar talents could most charitably be described as ‘wild ‘n’ wayward’.Discovered in the recurring role of ‘Pit-Stop Mikey’ on unsupervised Saturday morning kids’ show,'Captain Corndog's Psychometric Balloon Hour', Reeves was soon to be starring in the pick of the indies (‘River’s Edge’) and hideously calculated studio confections (‘Permanent Vacation’) before catching the ‘bonehead slacker’ wave with surprise comedy hit, ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’.A near-casualty of his own early success, Reeves became so identified with his role as the sweet-natured but utterly clueless Ted that his career as both an actor and leading man looked like it was over before it had begun. Such questionable period outings as ‘Tremulous French Milquetoast #2’ in Stephen Frears’ ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, and as lavender fancy-man Jonathan Harker in Coppola’s moribund retelling of ‘Dracula’ did little to help matters.The rest, of course, is Hollywood history, with such copper-bottomed successes as ‘Point Break’, ‘Speed’ and that first ‘Matrix’ film doing just about enough to balance out the crimes of ‘Little Buddha’, ‘A Walk In The Clouds’ and those other two ‘Matrix’ films. It’s been a long, strange, occasionally vacuous trip, so let’s take time to look back at a few of the roles that forged Keanu into the capricious acting powerhouse soon to light up our screens with his why-oh-why? remake of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’…
River's Edge (1986, Tim Hunter)
Role: High School dish Matt
Without a shadow of doubt the finest film of Keanu's career, Tim Hunter's dark and searching tale of teen disfunction and dispassion still rings painfully true. As putative hero Matt, Keanu plays second fiddle to Crispin Glover's manic speedfreak Layne, but still manages to make a pretty strong impression as the 'good' guy trying to do the 'right' thing.
Most enviable scene: Cosying up to Ione Skye on a blanket in the park.
Finest comeback: 'The only reason you stay here is so you can fuck my mother and eat her food. MOTHERFUCKER! FOOD EATER!'
Breakthrough potential: 10/10
Ron Howard)Role: Stock-car clown Tod HigginsIn Steve Martin's fluffy bathrobe of a movie, Keanu is apparently there to inject a little 'edge' by driving very fast, getting covered in grease and seducing and impregnating Martha Plimpton. Luckily, he turns out to be just as fuzzy as all the other messed-up-but-tryin'-hard middle class white folks, and soon settles down into satisfied suburban domesticity.Most disturbing scene: Keanu discovers that the source of 'messed up little dude' Edward Furlong's teen depression is a bizarre addiction to group masturbation. Only in America!Preach on, Brother Reeves: 'You know, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.' Gritty urban truth rating: 1/10
I Love You To Death (1990, Lawrence Kasdan)Role: Acid-fried low-life, Marlon JamesA first foray into character acting sees our boy team up with William Hurt as a pair of stone-baked losers hired by Tracey Ullman to bump off her philandering Italian husband (Kevin Kline) in Lawrence Kasdan’s meaty slice of steel-town soap opera. If their bumbling efforts aren’t enough to convince you that this is a comedy, Kline’s ‘Wassamattayou!?’ accent will remove any doubt.
Cosmic Moment: A cracked rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance.Sweet Line: ‘Is that legal... having sex with a kangaroo?’In the grand, y’know, scheme of things: 7/10
Point Break (1991, Kathryn Bigelow)
Role: FBI Special Agent Johnny Utah
The Big Kahuna is surprisingly adept as an outwardly straight FBI agent with the grossly unfortunate and somewhat suspicious name of Johnny Utah in his first proper, big-timey starring role. Taught to surf on Uncle Sam’s coin, he’s sent undercover to infiltrate Patrick Swayze’s band of bank-robbin' beach bums. Keanu’s straight-bat performance manages to hold together a willfully eccentric cast that includes an especially wild-eyed Gary Busey, Tom Sizemore and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Bodacious Moment: Utah catches his first rad tube.
Gnarly quote: Soon-to-be national catchphrase, ‘Back off, Warchild!’
My Own Private Idaho (1991, Gus van Sant)Role: Slumming ‘bro-stitute’, Scott FavorTaking the lead in this tableau-rich re-imagining of Henry IV for the Pearl Jam generation, Keanu is the scion of a wealthy family trying to find himself by flogging his log from Oregon to Italy. Fellow hustler and love/psychological torture interest Mike (River Phoenix) does for narcolepsy what Elephant did for albino-heavy high school massacres.Beyond The Bard moment: Scott and Mike ditch the city on a stolen hog only to break down in the desert where they encounter a spiritual Apache cop. As Mike makes an ambitious run for it across 500 miles of featureless scrub the whole scene takes on a disturbing Looney Tunes aspect.Portentous metaphor: 'If I had known that it was going to be this hard to start, then I wouldn't have stopped it at all.' See also: 'He stole my shoes, the dick!'.Allegorical score: 8/10
Role: Wyld Stallyn Ted 'Theodore' Logan (also Evil Robot Ted)
Despite attempts to ‘go serious’ by playing Hamlet and Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu’s signature role remains the bumbling, loveable metalhead doofus Ted Logan, whose adventures in this absurdly imaginative, higher budget, ever-so-slightly-funnier sequel include getting thrown off a cliff, doing infinity pushups, playing battleships with Death, possessing his own father and mugging three people in heaven.
Key scene: Descending into the bottomless pit of eternal damnation, Bill and Ted take time out to plays a little 20 questions. 'Are you a mineral?' 'Yeah!' 'A tank?' 'Whoa! Yeah!'.
Memorable proposition: 'As I swim through this dark and fearful sea of existence, surrounded by various creatures, sharks, eels, yellowtail, and also barnacles, and algae, man-o-wars, starfish, blowfish, catfish. Uh, no, that's fresh water.'
Keanu comfort zone rating: 10/10
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)Role: Xtreme Conveyancer, Jonathan HarkerKeanu is sibilant clotheshorse of a property lawyer dispatched to Transylvania to be snared in an evil game while exchanging contracts with an undead cash-buyer. Stoker’s novel had Harker as an ineffectual pud but it’s impossible to tell whether Matrix has an uncanny insight into his character or it’s just that his sole template for ‘doing English’ is Peter Bowles.Toothsome Moment: Harker’s business trip goes conventional when over-indulgence in the complementary Tia Marias results in a poorly judged four-in-a-bed vampiric romp.Sanguine quote: 'I've seen many strange things already... bloody wolves chasing me through some blue inferno!'Highest stakes: 4/10
Role: Johnny Mnemonic
In the days before the trusty telex machine was a symbol of an unattainable technological nirvana, people had to carry ‘data’ around in their brains. That’s the basis for this musty William Gibson adap, in which Special K plays the titular cyber courier who must transport a bunch of electronic files in his noggin that turn out to be rather sensitive. So sensitive, in fact, that an army of mercenaries are unleashed to whack him out before he ‘offloads his mind cargo’ all over his boss’s desk.
Brainshock: Keanu killing 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano.
Techno quote: ‘I can carry nearly eighty gigs of data in my head.’
Enjoyment percentile: 12
Devil’s Advocate (1997, Taylor Hackford)Role: Hotshot lawyer, Kevin LomaxKR finds himself in John Grisham’s Faust as the Southern litigator working for one Hell of a boss. He’s a natural as a pliable chump, but Al Pacino (‘John Milton’ – yes, we read a book once too) gets the best lines as a scenery chewing CEO Satan and whipping boy for the writers’ alimony agonies.Diabolical Moment: Milton’s offer of the post of Antichrist to Lomax takes the form of a high-rolling job interview at Lucifer’s yuppie condo, lampooning management bullshit and unmasking the evil at the heart of all corporate double-speakers.Oh! So he’s... quote: “In the Bible you lose. We're destined to lose, dad.”Number of The Beast: 8/10
The Gift (Sam Raimi, 2000)
Role: Hicky log-jammer, Donnie BarksdaleKeanu got all the best lines in the psychological cabin-in-the-boondocks guff, which sees Cate Blanchett grub up her face, tousle her hair, spit-shine her best grits-‘n’-fixins brogue and is given the ‘gift’ (ahhhh, but is it??!!) of being able to see in to the future. A relatively easy pay cheque for Reeves, in that his sole contribution to the film consists of swearing and knocking his missus about in between flabby dream sequences. Keanu’s costume masterstroke: Trucker’s cap, work shirt, huntin’/fishin’/shootin’ body warmer, serial killer beard. Old sayin’: ‘Messing with the Devil's gonna get you burned… Everybody knows that’.Southern good ol’ boy-o-meter: 74
Author: Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’