Dissecting Keanu Reeves!

Last Updated on July 31, 2021


So Keanu Reeves is a pretty interesting actor. Never quite lauded for his actual acting ability, there's still something undeniably unique about the man's onscreen persona. Something about him has an ineffable draw. An intangible magnetism. And it seems, for every cool movie role he chooses to play, there's another one or two that make you scratch your head in utter befuddlement. The dude has certainly had a fascinating career, one that continues to evolve from mega-superstar leading man in studio tentpoles to ancillary character work in offbeat indies. But no matter the size of the role or film itself, Keanu has, since the beginning of his career, embraced the cinematic world of horror and science fiction. RIVER'S EDGE, BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, SPEED, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, THE MATRIX TRILOGY, DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE WATCHER, JOHNNY MNEMONIC, CHAIN REACTION, CONSTANTINE, THE GIFT, JOHN WICK, KNOCK KNOCK, THE NEON DEMON – these are just a few examples of what we're talking about.

And while Keanu hasn't an imminent genre joint up for release, it is Thanksgiving. With Turkey Day comes thoughts of Eli Roth. With Thoughts of Roth come thoughts of KNOCK KNOCK, which, of course, starred Mr. Reeves. This causal logic is good enough for us to finally, at long last, Dissect the impressive genre career of Keanu Reeves. Bon appe…f*cking…tit!



It's easy to allow the wildly unhinged MATRIX: RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS to degrade the series as a whole, but let's not kid ourselves, THE MATRIX is and will quite possibly always be the best movie Keanu ever partook in. Well, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO notwithstanding. THE MATRIX was an absolute game changer. Prescient in its commentary on digital-age human slavery and the binary takeover of a macro corporatocracy, Keanu's Neo embodied not just every wily computer hacker out there, he embodied us all. The little guy fighting uphill against a stacked deck. Now, you could argue Keanu has given better performances over his illustrious career, but none come close to the global-cultural impact his work as Neo in the 1999 first leg of the trilogy. Who knows, maybe Keanu was the perfect person to play the role. A guy who appears stoned and sleepy most of the time, only to wake up to the enlightenment of what his altered reality showed him. The enslaved labor, the lack of autonomy, the subjugation of humans by machines, the service of some far larger entity that preys on the hard work and blind loyalty of a misinformed proletariat.

And that's just the subtext. On a visceral level, the film redefined what an action joint could be…the bullet time sequences, the hyper-kineticism of the fight scenes, the whirlwind visuals, all of it. And there was Keanu at the center, a perfect conduit to portray a man whose eyes are freed from the pulled-wool so many of us can't quite shed. In that regard, it is actually a brilliantly understated turn from Reeves, who essentially gives us dual roles, the aforementioned and the hard-assed action maniac who goes ballistic on the forces out to quiet his knowledge and kill his human form. Come to think of it, I can't even imagine another, much less a better, actor to play the role of Neo. Can you?


Well, one character that has been played by a number of actors of the years is that of Jonathan Harker. You know, the vampire hunter who first appeared in NOSFERATU in an attempt to slay what would eventually become Dracula. Indeed, Reeves portrayed Harker in Francis Ford Coppola's handsome and regal adaptation of BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA in 1992. A supporting role no doubt, one overshadowed by Gary Oldman's Dracula and Anthony Hopkins' Van Helsing, but for a young actor coming off BILL & TED and POINT BREAK, Reeves acquitted himself quite well in the film. But it's the movie and the pedigree, not his performance, that even allows the conversation of the film being among Reeves' best work. After all, Coppola openly criticized his own decision to cast Reeves, one made in need of a hot young actor to sway female eyeballs. Hell, even by Keanu's own admission, he was not happy with his work in the film, citing overworking a schedule on back-to-back movies that utterly drained his creative tank. But again, Keanu's career is weird like that, he often picks material that is far better than his own acting acumen. In our eyes, DRACULA is a perfect example of this.


HARDBALL. SWEET NOVEMBER. THE LAKEHOUSE. Oh shit, I forgot, we're cutting up Keanu's genre career. Never mind. How about JOHNNY MNEMONIC. CHAIN REACTION. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Wow, "the cool breeze over the mountain" (as Keanu translates to in Hawaiian) has wafted an effluvious stench indeed. Still, of all, the one that really need be taken to task is the ridiculous 2000 film THE WATCHER, which Reeves could not hide from having appeared in damn near every scene. Wow what a calamity!

THE WATCHER is an atrociously confounding movie. What the hell was Keanu thinking? In the film, Reeves plays the title character, a serial killer who stages elaborate crime scenes for the police to parse. He calmly stalks his female prey, watches them for weeks while planning the perfect murder, then meticulously skirts forensic evidence and sends grisly pictures of his work to a detective he likes taunting. The movie starts out okay but falls apart quickly, suffering from a barrage of horror film clichés and rote thriller conventions. Keanu tries to imbue the killer with his trademark charm and cool, but the end result is pretty damn forgettable if not embarrassing. Not Keanu's finest hour!



They say it's the intense gaze and staccato drawl that have been trademarked by Reeves, but come on, there must be more to it than that. How about the ephemera of his acting career. The non-trademarks of it all. This dude has chosen projects wisely, never leaning too heavily on mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters, and never quite miring in micro-budget arthouse indies, but somehow finding a sweet spot right in the middle. He'll do a biggie for a check, come back and do a tiny for the artistic expression. Whatever the results, and they are checkered, you can't front on that kind of logic. Sure, one might cite his rock band and the inveterate stoner facade and draw conclusions on them, but it really seems like Keanu's overriding credo is swaying to his own jib. A man with no set path, a cinematic vagabond much like a pre-Disney Johnny Depp. Take the year 2005 for a snapshot example. Reeves did ELLIE PARKER, THUMBSUCKER and CONSTANTINE that year, three movies that couldn't be more different if you drew titles out of hat. Honestly, it's this unlighted path of Reeves I have the most admiration for.



Because he played a starring role in neither, it's easy to see why movies like RIVER'S EDGE and THE GIFT would be considered under the radar high-marks for Reeves. After all, it's our contention he's at his best when doing interesting character work as opposed to outright leads. And though he didn't dominate the screen time in either, both are incredibly memorable when it comes to Keanu's understated work in extremely high-quality movies. Let's check it…

"I ate so much p*ssy in those days, my beard looked like a glazed donut!" No, not a Donald Trump quote, but one from Reeves' SPEED costar Dennis Hopper in the disturbingly realistic RIVER'S EDGE (sorry, couldn't resist!) In the film, Keanu plays high-school stoner Matt, who learns that his friend flat out merked a female classmate in cold blood. With not a morsel of compunction, his pal (Daniel Roebuck) ditches the body on a riverbank for all to see, and nonchalantly carries on with his beer drinking business. Reeves plays his role with requisite terror and bewilderment, unable to grasp why his friend did it, and what to do about it now that it's over. There's a nagging anxiety about Reeves' work in the film that has always stood out, the way he twists and fidgets in his classroom desk-chair in utter disbelief. A kid caught between wanting to do right by the law but also stay loyal to his friend. It's a precocious turn for a 21-22 year old, a grounded one that plays perfectly in opposition to Crispin Glover's manically zealous and over the top performance. I love this movie!


Same goes for the criminally undervalued GIFT, directed by Sam Raimi and co-written by Billy Bob Thornton. Again, a small role for Keanu, but a solid one in a borderline great movie makes it all worthwhile. Cate Blanchet plays a troubled clairvoyant who is hounded by local townsfolk after a girl goes missing. Keanu plays Donnie Barksdale in the film, a violent wife-abusing murder suspect who is arrested after the missing girl's body is found in the pond in his backyard. It's a different side of Reeves than we're used to seeing, one he nails with the requisite loathsomeness you'd expect from such a vile human. It turns out Donnie indeed had an affair with the dead girl, and when stronger evidence is found, the sick psycho sumbitch is sent to prison for his heinous crime. This is ugly, unappealing redneck Reeves at his most terrifying. Props to Raimi for casting him against type and giving him the chance to pull out the paint-box and show his whole range of colors. See this movie at once if you somehow haven't!



Though not quite in high A-list demand as he once was, Keanu stays busy. IMDB currently shows a half-dozen projects that Reeves is attached to, three of which are in postproduction. For our purposes, it's the highly stylized action revenge addendum JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, the sci-fi thriller called REPLICAS and a sweet-sounding assassin flick called RAIN that warrant a closer anticipatory look. Let's scope it!

Back for more February 10th, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 follows:

Hitman John Wick, who is forced out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of an international assassins' guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome where he squares off against the world's deadliest killers.

With the same director back from the pleasantly entertaining JOHN WICK, we should expect more good things when the Wick burns bright this winter.

As for REPLICAS, the plot is as follows:

A Daring synthetic biologist who, after a car accident kills his family, will stop at nothing to bring them back, even if it means pitting himself against a government-controlled laboratory, a police task force and the physical laws of science.

Last but perhaps most intriguing is a TV miniseries called RAIN Reeves is attached to. Peep the simple logline:

An assassin specializes in making his hits look like they've died from natural causes.

The last one is a but tentative at this point, but keep it here for update on all three upcoming Keanu projects. First, of the three, let us know which intrigues you most!


Hit or miss, quality or not, blockbuster or indie, it's clear Keanu Reeves is a pretty damn fascinating actor. This dude clearly has and will walk his own path within the movie industry, and just when you think you have the man pegged or pigeonholed, he redefines all of our terms as to who he is and what he's capable of. While never quite enamored with his overall acting talent, I wholeheartedly have gratitude for the man's dedication to the darker brand of cinema…the horror, thrillers and sci-fi opuses. Flicks like RIVER'S EDGE, BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, SPEED, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, THE MATRIX, THE GIFT, CONSTANTINE, JOHN WICK, KNOCK KNOCK, THE NEON DEMON and others have all been made just a little bit better because of Keanu's mere presence. Let's hope now that he's moved into more of a producorial role (REPLICAS, RAIN), an even larger fingerprint is left by Reeves on the world of the cinematic macabre!

Source: AITH

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.