Love that portrait of 95′ Keanu Reeves by Jackie Sun

I’m currently KonMari-ing my computer of the 30 years of combined backups it holds. I had Internet early when I was at university, and at the time when it was still difficult for me to find good reads about my favorite celebrities (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves), I saved articles about them. A lot of them went to the bin because they’re irrelevent so much later. But upon reading that one, unfortunately saved without the source, just the author’s name (Jackie Sun. If you read these lines, I hope you don’t mind me sharing your article. I loved it but I will remove it if you want), and since it doesn’t seem to be available online anywhere, I figured I should « save » it on this blog to share that insightul portrait of Keanu Reeves.

Keanu Reeves is a reactive actor. Keanu Reeves is a physical actor. Keanu
Reeves is a star. A Walk in the Clouds confirms that all three statements
are true.

Reeves is best in movie roles, where he mainly reacts to other characters or
events. He uneasily initiates action, but he exudes far more confidence as a
gorgeous, but modest object of desire. Gus Van Sant knew this in My Own
Private Idaho, when he made Reeves the callous object of River Phoenix’s
unrequited longing. Kathryn Bigelow knew this in Point Break, when she shot
the opening scene of Reeves expertly handling a rifle, in a black T-shirt,
tightened by the pouring rain. Jan De Bont knew this in Speed, when he
included that shot of intertwined Reeves and Sandra Bullock careening their
graceful way out from an exploding bus, onto the airport tarmac through a
tangle of gorgeous blood red ribbons. Alfonso Arau knows this in A Walk in
the Clouds.

Reeves is a GI returning from brutal battle in World War II to a wife he
barely knows and a lousy job, selling chocolates on the road. He looks at
home in his uniform, in his fitted forties suits, and most of all, he looks
at home in his hat. What a surprise it is just how much better a movie this
is than the genially flimsy Like Water for Chocolate, and how good Reeves is
in it. Throughout his career, Reeves has generally played two different
general roles: that of the young selfish, callous cad, and that of the young
sweet, misunderstood innocent. The role of Paul Sutton was written for him.
Only the sweet goodness of Reeves can suffice in this lush Napa Valley
landscape, and suffice it does.

I will be the last to claim that A Walk in the Clouds is a complex movie of
particular profundity, or that it provides entertainment of a radical,
provocative nature. Why would Hollywood or anybody for that fact, in this
age and day, make a lush, magical realist romance like this? One can blame
its origin on a variety of causes, like the need for reactionary escapist
movies like While You Were Sleeping, IQ, and A Walk in the Clouds, in a time
of ever-increasing social decay and disintegration. In bitter, cynical times
like these, does anyone believe that romantic movies will succeed in
satisfying our empty souls? One part of me scoffs at Hollywood’s offer of
superficial balm. The other part of me leaves the theater with lighter feet
and a crooked smile. I would rather remain with my latter half. A Walk in
the Clouds is an simple, old-fashioned, and good-natured movie.

Paul Sutton is a good, decent man, scarred by war and scarred by a childhood
spent in an orphanage (Hint: he needs a family). All he wants is plain and
simple love. This he does not find in his flaky wife (Debra Messing). He
finds it in Victoria Aragon (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), and her cozy, Mexican
wine-making family, headed by her apoplectic father (Giannini Giancarlo).
The plot is a throwback to those old pretend-we’re-married plots of
countless screwball comedies, a throwback so clear and clean it threatens to
become a dull boomerang. On his chocolate-selling job, Paul meets Victoria
on the train and later on the bus. In a moment of anxious confession, she
reveals to him that she is pregnant, unmarried, and therefore, fears her
father’s reaction. Paul gallantly volunteers to pose as her husband, who
will abandon her after one night in the Aragon vineyard, thus leaving
Victoria blameless. Much romantic tension and mayhem ensues in the couple’s
charades and her family’s mixed reactions. Arau may not be a masterful
director, but he does execute the plot with the right amount of neat and
efficient swiftness. He does not slow down too much, so that the film’s
cliched dialogue and story become unbearable. He does not speed it up too
much, so that it becomes farcical. A Walk in the Clouds remains consistently
fair, except for the overwrought ending, and for Giancarlo’s over-the-top
paternal anger. If he resisted playing at top volume all the time, he might
have gained greater dramatic effect. Lovely, graceful Sanchez-Gijon,
however, convinces as a refined and educated young woman of Catholic
background. Together she and Reeves exude a quiet, sexy tenderness. The high
point of the movie occurs during the grape-stompi ng scene, when you watch
the happy realization of love dawn on his face. Before Reeves kisses her for
the first time, the joy on his face is tremendous, a joy rarely recorded in
film now (or even seen in life), utterly charming in its young innocence,
and utterly understandable, given its cause. The scene is a natural
successor in to the moment in Speed, where Reeves gazes at Bullock after
saving her from the bus. I definitely want to see more of Sanchez-Gijon in
the future. Anthony Quinn gives an effortlessly scene-stealing performance
as Victoria’s wise, but adorable grandfather. The sort of thing that only
someone with Quinn’s giant visage and stature should do. Reeves’ and Quinn’s
song-and-drink scene together makes a winning plot turn. And through out the
movie, Arau treats the audience to gorgeous imagery of grapevine land and
giant redwoods underneath swooni ng skies. Clearly, a romantic genre movie
all the way, and for the most part, a success.

In the 7/18/95 interview with Peter Stack of the Chronicle, Reeves tries to
explain himself: « I think I know why they say I’m detached…They say it
because sometimes I’m beyond acting, and into the reality of the moment. In
the movies they always want the hero overplayed with that big jolt of the
dramatic, the theatrical. But say you took a guy in real life and looked
hard at the reality of him. A guy faced with the most devastating
circumstances is often the coolest guy around. He looks detached, but his
whole being might be on fire. » Critics and his audience complain that Reeves
is a non-actor. I prefer to say Reeves has a non-acting style, and therein
lies the reason for his stardom. Reeves, when he’s at his strongest, emotes,
suggests, expresses. One can laugh at his monotonous voice with its surfer
breathiness. However, (and I write this with an entirely straight face)
when he acts in silence, he can be powerful. Few actors can light up a
screen the way Reeves does, by merely smiling with his whole being. It is
nothing like the calculating, still-pretending-to-be-young grin of Tom
Cruise, or the easy golden boy smile of Brad Pitt. There has never existed
any hint of narcissism in Reeves (except perhaps once in Much Ado About
Nothing, but Kenneth Branagh should be blamed for that), no pushy attempt to
please and appeal.
I once read a critic’s comment about Reeves’ extreme ease
with playing callous characters (Point Break, My Own Private Idaho). One can
apply that as well to Reeves’ clear affinity for playing not overly smart,
but sweet, good, muddled young men. Sure he has gotten where he is by large
virtue of his beauty, but there probably exists few images as compelling as
his tortured face near the end of A Walk in the Clouds, when he contemplates
his dilemma behind a rain-streaked truck window.His being is truly on fire
then. When Reeves’ eyes light up, it’s grace, it beckons us up into the
clouds with him. Reeves is a new kind of Hollywood paradox, the kind that
can only survive and thrive in the American nineties, the kind I would not
mind puzzling over for a long time to come.

One mystery- why do people who dislike Reeves, go to movies, starring him?
As I left the theater, I could not help but overhear the comments of a group
of young yuppie women in front of me. Everyone loudly agreed on just how bad
Reeves was and recreated certain priceless pieces of his dialogue. So, why
did they go to the movie then? Could it have been Reeves himself? His looks?
Here’s my advice- Get a life.
P.S. Check out the review of this movie in Mr. Showbiz.
Jackie Sun

Well, I can’t agree with you more. I rather liked that movie at the time. And also realized that the director of photography had managed to make so we actually see Keanu’s pupils, which helps (you’d think it’s a detail. But try to draw a character with only black discs for irises, and it’s much harder to convey emotions)

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