The close-up intensity Lodge Kerrigan brought to his study of schizophrenia in his 1993 first feature, "Clean, Shaven," powerfully confronts the viewer once again. Choice fest slots, critical support and producer Steven Soderbergh's muscle will give this a respectable profile in specialized release.

The close-up intensity Lodge Kerrigan brought to his study of schizophrenia in his 1993 first feature, “Clean, Shaven,” powerfully confronts the viewer once again in “Keane.” Very similar to its predecessor in its deep burrowing into the disturbed mind of a father looking for his daughter, new pic lacks some of the previous film’s sharper edges, literally and figuratively, but is equally convincing as a portrait of a marginal man gone beyond the emotional pale. The public for this sort of harrowing ultra-realist fare is small, but combination of choice fest slots, critical support and producer Steven Soderbergh’s muscle will give this a respectable profile in specialized release.

Just as “Clean, Shaven” relied to a great extent on the creepy power lead actor Peter Greene brought to it, so does “Keane” rest squarely on the exceptional talent of Damian Lewis to put it across. Red-haired British-American thesp, who first came to prominence in “Band of Brothers,” is onscreen here virtually every second expressing, to varying degrees, how unbearable it must be to be responsible for the disappearance of one’s child.

Plunging without preamble into the protag’s desperate mindset, pic shows William Keane (Lewis), a grungy young man with a short scruffy beard, reeling through a large urban bus station and urgently asking strangers if they’ve seen his daughter. Unless the latter’s existence is meant to be a fantasy altogether, one is made to understand through his mutterings that Keane, when looking away for just a moment, lost the girl in this very station sometime within the past year, when she was 6.

Like “Clean, Shaven,” “Keane” is unsettling from the get-go, as both Lewis and the camera unsteadily sway as he talks to himself and rants in a manner that expresses a dreadful state somewhere between incurable remorse and unhinged hysteria. At some point, many parents experience the sudden gripping fear of having lost a kid in public, and “Keane” unflinchingly summons up the emotional consequences of the fruition of such a scenario.

As Keane lurches through New York City and environs, shouting at cars from the middle of the street, practically bursting out of his skull to the accompaniment of “Can’t Help Myself” in a bar, taking some coke, becoming involved in a random altercation and screwing a drug-addled girl in a disco bathroom, Kerrigan paints a grim incidental portrait of what society looks like from between the cracks. And while his style is entirely his own, forged from the outset more than a decade ago, one cannot now observe the relentless close-ups and following shots of Keane trudging around town without sometimes thinking of the Belgian Dardenne brothers and a film like “The Son.”

A prisoner of guilt and a hell of his own making, Keane becomes an entirely comprehensible character; if you’re responsible for something like he’s done, it will be impossible to even think of anything else for the rest of your life; few acts could have more all-encompassing ramifications.

Film’s second half sees Keane calm down slightly after he does a favor for Lynn (Amy Ryan), a woman who’s living in the same cheap hotel while sorting out apparent marital problems. It can’t be a coincidence, however, that Lynn has a 7-year-old daughter, Kyra (Abigail Breslin). So as Keane pursues a very tentative relationship with the distracted Lynn, who comes to depend upon her new friend to look after Kyra, an insidious dread begins to build as to Keane’s intentions with the child. Does he mean to abduct her himself? Might he repeat history by losing track of her too? Or would doing the right thing by Kyra represent the first step toward his rehabilitation?

Watching Lewis so thoroughly inhabit the demented Keane, one can only wonder how an actor can live with such a character for weeks and weeks and maintain a semblance of sanity and contact with real life. Thesp amazingly manages to find nuances of character while running his engine above the emotional red line throughout. It’s a resonant, haunting performance.

Throughout, lenser John Foster’s largely hand-held camera is focused either on Keane or what he’s seeing, and pic’s gritty look is part-and-parcel of this strong, raw work.

Keane

Production

A Populist Pictures presentation of a Studio Fierberg production. Produced by Steven Soderbergh, Andrew Fierberg. Co-producers, Brian Bell, Jenny Schweitzer. Directed, written by Lodge Kerrigan.

Crew

Camera (color), John Foster; editor, Andrew Hafitz; production designer, Petra Barchi; costume designer, Catherine George; supervising sound editor, Larry Blake; casting, Heidi Levitt, Bernard Telsey, David Vaccari. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Aug. 27, 2004. (In Telluride, New York film festivals.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

William Keane - Damian Lewis Kyra Bedik - Abigail Breslin Lynn Bedik - Amy Ryan
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