Take Two: A 'Keane' Remix by Soderbergh

Damian Lewis searches for his missing daughter in Lodge Kerrigan's
Damian Lewis searches for his missing daughter in Lodge Kerrigan's "Keane." (By Larry Riley -- Magnolia Pictures)
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006

"Is that a movie?"

The question came from a man at an adjacent table at the coffee shop, where I had just loaded a DVD onto my laptop. "Yeah," I answered.

"What's it about?"

"A guy who's trying to find his abducted 6-year-old daughter."

"Ahhh," my neighbor said, with a sage nod of his head. "Action."

Not exactly.

"Keane," a drama of ambiguous but intense psychological import, is no "Flightplan." Shakily shot in hand-held, cinema-verite style by filmmaker Lodge Kerrigan, the story follows William Keane (Damian Lewis) over the course of a few days as he wanders New York's Port Authority bus terminal, seemingly retracing steps taken several months ago, when his daughter was snatched from his side. Back at the seedy motel he lives in, William befriends a woman down on her luck (Amy Ryan) and her young daughter (Abigail Breslin).

So much for action.

What makes "Keane" compelling, however, is not the plot, but Lewis's performance, which burns with a mad, flame-like heat, tempered by the fragility of a candle in the wind. What makes the DVD version especially intriguing is the presence of a rather singular bonus feature -- an alternate cut by producer Steven Soderbergh, who writes:

"While I was away on location, Lodge sent me a copy of 'Keane' to look at before he locked picture. I loved the film and told him so, but I also sent him this version to look at, in case it jogged anything (it didn't). In any case, we agreed it was an interesting (to us) example of how editing affects intent. Or something."

Despite being 15 minutes shorter than the already lean, 94-minute theatrical version, Soderbergh's cut belies the cliche of the producer breathing down the director's neck to make the film more "accessible." Though the sequence of events has been pretty radically reshuffled -- it's a measure of the film's open-ended, character-driven narrative that no sense is particularly lost or gained -- neither version caters to what you might call multiplex tastes.

Rather, the changes affect subtler things such as pacing, style and mood -- in short, the poetry -- of what is already a very poetic piece. Soderbergh's version, for instance, waits nearly a half-hour before revealing the nature of William's search, while Kerrigan's film introduces the character's quest (perhaps delusional, as we discover) in the film's first minutes.

Here's how "Capote" director Bennett Miller expressed the power of editing recently, in a making-of featurette appearing on his film's DVD: "Movies are made in editing. Editing, more than any other discipline, is filmmaking. The movie gets reconceived and rewritten, redirected, re-acted in the editing."

"Keane" (version 2.0) is not, however, the kind of experiment that can expect to find broad appeal. As Soderbergh himself suggests, it's of primary interest to filmmakers and their ilk. To that list, I'd add film critics (guilty!) and film students, along with all the hardcore cineastes who rushed to see Soderbergh's most recent other experiment in thoughtful moviemaking, "Bubble."


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