Georgia Balmer looks at how Keanu Reeves has gone from trashy actor to Hollywood’s most loved faces
There are few jobs that are as gilded as that of Keanu Reeves’ publicist. As Hollywood increasingly becomes a PR Hunger Games of who can make the most out of touch statement first, to manage a man so revered for his goodness must be like winning a Wonka golden ticket.
As Reeves revises his role in the Bill and Ted franchise, it feels like a good time to ask just what has made the actor so loved? With a checkered career of hits and misses, has being a nice guy really been enough to create the cult icon that is Keanu Reeves?
Bill and Ted
These films feel like a fever dream. Time travellers help two Californian deadbeats pass history class so they can make music so good they create a utopian society? Certifiably insane. However, the upbeat goofiness of Reeves (Ted) makes for a genuinely feel-good film, with moments of laugh out loud glee. Where Reeves excels, and arguably a big reason for his success, is his ability to take a dumb and dumber-esque character and flesh it out into somebody the audience wants to like. These are low brow films with ‘cheap’ gags, but Reeves gives them a heart that is still captivating audiences 30 years later.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
To take a story so overdone and camp that it gives Cher a run for her money, and produce a film that feels modern despite its historical setting is a real feat. Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula rightly deserved its three Academy Awards. As for Reeves, his performance as Jonathon Harker is widely considered the most heinous accent committed to film, which is impressive considering Brad Pitt’s Jamaican accent in Meet Joe Black. The worst part is that you can tell Reeves knows he’s bad. Every line sounds like he wants to revert to Ted’s Californian drawl. It’s a testament to Gary Oldman that the film is watchable. It should have been a career-ender of a bad performance, but Reeves’ odd brand of charisma kept him popular long enough to prove that he could deliver more than deadbeat schmuck.
There is a quiet power to Reeves when he gets it right
The premise of Speed is as nonsensical as Bill and Ted, and yet Quentin Tarantino named it one of the best films he saw between 1992 and 2009. An oddly specific list to grace, sure, but Speed is one of those films that works despite itself, and deserves that accolade. Watching Reeves frantically drive a bus at over 50 mph so it doesn’t detonate a bomb shouldn’t make sense. However, he gets the balance right between pessimistic LAPD cop and light-hearted humour, allowing the audience to buy into the ridiculousness. Speed showed that Reeves can do controlled seriousness well, despite being way off the mark in Dracula; more importantly than this, he showed that he could be trusted with complex characters.
The Matrix is one of those films that makes people recoil with shock when you say you haven’t seen it. Not only is it filled with stellar special effects and stunts that still hold up 20 years later, but it leaves you questioning the very nature of your existence by the end. It takes a special actor to deliver a performance with the gravitas demanded by Reeves’ Neo, and still deliver a believable action figure that can lead one of the highest-earning film franchises of all time. The Matrix is Reeves at his best, and it’s easy to see why he’s become a pop culture icon with the coolness he brings to the role.
There is a quiet power to Reeves when he gets it right. As an actor, he is somewhat inconsistent, but his odd, introverted charm is refreshing to see in a leading man. Keanu Reeves has earned his title as a cult icon and the nicest guy in Hollywood, and he wears both titles damn well.