keanu reeves fan club
Kara Schlegl tracks The Matrix actor’s roller-coaster career arc, from lovable goofball to stone-faced action hero.
BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989) This iconic flick follows two best friends who use a time-travelling phone booth to kidnap famous historical figures, ace a school project, and (if they have time) save the world. Keanu Reeves’ breakout role as Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan is suitably bonkers, foreshadowing a career that can loosely be described as “whoa”. Reeves is disarming with his long hair, Valley Boy accent and perfect comedic timing, somehow delivering the funniest performance in an already sensational cast. This film has the chaotic energy of Wayne’s World set in a Back to the Future universe, serving us a madcap adventure with a lot of heart. It is Reeves’ first big franchise, and arguably his most fun. Notably, he won the role of Ted over first choice Pauly Shore, saving us from a cursed timeline I dare not imagine.
POINT BREAK (1991) After his turn as a heavy-metal himbo in Bill & Ted, it was a tough sell to cast Reeves as stoic undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah (although Utah is also a bit of a himbo, let’s be honest). Luckily, Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow loves a tough sell, deliberately casting her outlandish action thriller about a gang of surfers who rob banks with outlandish actors renowned for making unexpected choices in their work. Reeves stars opposite Patrick Swayze as surf guru and gang leader Bodhi, with Lori Petty and the notoriously certifiable Gary Busey in supporting roles. This film divides critics, who commonly described Reeves as “wooden” in his performance. But Reeves’ choice to play Utah as understated, if not constipated, helps ground the truly bizarre plot, as we see the character grip onto his sanity while he’s flung into traffic and hurled out of a plane. There is a magnificent relief in watching Reeves finally unleash at the end of the film, a scene that has been enshrined in cinematic history for a reason.
SPEED (1994) While I will argue to the death that his work in Point Break is a masterclass performance, there’s no doubt that Speed solidified Reeves as an action superstar. This movie about a bus that can’t slow down is another action thriller with an off-chops premise. Though it relies heavily on the tension of a bus that might explode at any moment, the charm of this movie is in the romance between Reeves’ lawful-good cop, Jack, and the chaotic-good Annie (Sandra Bullock), a passenger who finds herself driving this bomb-rigged bus after the actual driver gets shot. Dennis Hopper is often lauded for his inventive, high-spirited performance as Howard Payne, a terrorist on a war path, but I’d argue the reason this movie works is almost exclusively because we care intensely for Jack and Annie, and their hypothetical and extremely attractive offspring. The fact that Reeves and Bullock never dated in real life is a true affront to love, nature and to me, personally.
JOHN WICK (2014) Reeves had been a celebrated action hero for over two decades before he signed on to do John Wick, and still, somehow, nobody expected him to transform into a gun-wielding, ultra-violent chaos demon. The film opens with a heartbreaking vengeance narrative, as retired assassin John Wick (Reeves) hunts down the man who killed his dog (sorry for the mild spoilers, but there’s no skirting around that opening scene). The film becomes a cinematic opera as we watch Wick descend into the bowels of an extravagant criminal world. This is, in my opinion, Reeves at his unapologetic, balls-to-the-wall best, and proves that his tendency to take a risk on a wacky premise comes with a huge pay-off. While Reeves has fronted successful and innovative action franchises before (see: The Matrix), none are as consistent or satisfying as the John Wick universe, where each sequel opens up more questions and forces us to demean ourselves at gunpoint as we beg for more.
THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) You only need to watch Sweet November (2001), Destination Wedding (2018) or (god forbid) Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) to know that Reeves has had little success as a romantic lead. This has been a long and brutal curse for us Keanu stans who need more material for our erotic fan fiction. Luckily, this fantasy-drama about a time-travelling letterbox is an exception to the rule, probably due to Reeves’ enduring chemistry with co-star Sandra Bullock. A remake of the critically beloved South Korean romance Il Mare, The Lake House follows a man and a woman who live in the same house two years apart. Somehow, they are able to communicate in real time through letters (don’t ask me how this works). While not as sharp as the original (and a bit more convoluted), it retains the intense longing of two people separated by their inexplicable inability to use a phone. It’s the closest American cinema might come to replicating a modern-day Jane Austen romance without adapting it.
MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) One of his earliest and most obscure roles, Reeves’ turn as a queer sex worker in this loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV is an unsung revelation. The super-chill Scott (Reeves) and his narcoleptic softboy bestie Mike (played by River Phoenix in one of his final roles) are fellow street hustlers who embark on a journey across the country, and then across the world, in an attempt to find family and figure themselves out. This is ostensibly an indie road movie, but underneath, it’s a heartbreaking unrequited love story for any queer person who’s fallen for a painfully heterosexual friend. The chemistry between Reeves and Phoenix is off the charts, made all the more heart-wrenching when you learn that they only wanted to star in this film if it was with each other.
A SCANNER DARKLY (2006) Another underrated indie adaptation, this play on Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi dystopia shows us an America that has succumbed to drug addiction en masse. A Scanner Darkly is a cinematic experience that makes you feel as though you downed a nondescript pill you found on the floor of a public toilet. Reeves plays Bob Arctor, an undercover cop who infiltrates a drug ring only to become a drug addict himself (whoops!). This film is best known for two things: its distinctive look, which traces and manipulates real footage into a warped, animated style, and its unbelievable cast, which includes Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson. Director Richard Linklater loves to make movies that pull you in like one of those 4D rides at Disneyland, except you’re just sitting at a bar with Robert Downey Jr., watching a beer grow legs and walk away. This film is not for the faint-hearted, but it is for anyone who wants to live the dream of tripping out on the couch with Keanu Reeves for two hours.
KNOCK KNOCK (2015) I can’t do a list about Keanu Reeves and ignore his tendency to veer off course, without warning, into B-movie madness. Successful architect and dedicated family man Evan (Reeves) is having a quiet night at home alone when two young women show up at his door, soaking wet, looking for shelter from a storm. It’s the premise of a porn movie, and it plays out exactly like one for the entire first act before things get a bit less sexy, and a lot more fucked up. This home-invasion erotic thriller pairs Reeves’ wooden stoicism with director Eli Roth’s twisted imagination, resulting in one of the actor’s funniest – and bloodiest – performances to date. Often likened to Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man screaming, “NOT THE BEES!”, this is Reeves at his most deranged – a shining demonstration of how far he will go for even the most ludicrous of roles.