Sometimes actors will crescendo to a certain peak in their careers, lasting for months to years. Keanu Reeves is reaching that peak in 2016, and we’re talking McConaissance levels here. The upcoming year sees Keanu working with numerous arthouse auteurs – Ana Lily Amirpour, Nicolas Winding Refn and (cross your fingers his film gets released this year) Shane Carruth. And then, like a glorious cherry on top, we are getting John Wick 2. Keanu is flexing both his arthouse and action hero muscles, the pinnacle of a path that’s taken some time.
It started back in 2014 when John Wick came out, becoming the definitive Keanu Reeves action film that we had all been waiting for, as the actor proved to still have the chops, dexterity and pull to deliver an instantly iconic action film and character. The stuntwork Reeves did was insanely complex, adopting a sort of gun-fu style of fighting captured in impressive long takes by directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. The magnitude of how awesome John Wick is can be summed up by the two messages a friend sent me after a viewing: “DUDE JOHN WICK” and “HOLY SHIT.” Keanu had ascended to a rightful place in action hero cinema that we had been waiting for since The Matrix, and his greatest asset as an actor is also what people hate the most about watching him — he acts like an alien whose understanding of human emotion only comes from having watched a lot of bad action films. Not a lot of directors know what to do with that, but since John Wick, Keanu seems to have found a certain groove with filmmakers that understand how to use him.
While an Eli Roth film is the cinematic equivalent of having to fart but worrying that some poop might come out, his collaboration with Keanu, Knock Knock, was surprisingly good. This was mainly because the film was designed to be pure camp, and Keanu’s forced emotions worked perfectly to create an enjoyable and authentic vibe. While I normally don’t like it when actors I admire work with Roth, this represented a sort of break from Keanu’s comfort zone, and now that it paid off, he’s doubling down on that aspect for 2016.
Ana Lily Amirpour created one of the more authentic debuts this decade with her bizarre and entrancing Iranian vampire western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. She’s following it up with an even more bizarre-sounding film called The Bad Batch, a romance set in a community of post-apocalyptic cannibals. Incidentally, Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Valhalla Rising) follows up his polarizing Only God Forgives sometime this year with The Neon Demon, a horror-type following a young model who moves to L.A. and finds a group of women who want her beauty. Shane Carruth, the auteur behind mind-melters Primer and Upstream Color, sets his next film as an ensemble piece in the high seas called The Modern Ocean. While we have to wait on Keanu’s performances, the mere fact that he’s taking chances on these filmmakers (and vice versa) speaks volumes of where he’s at creatively.
Then on the other hand, you have the return of Reeves’ most iconic action hero in John Wick 2 later this year. It’s easy to complain about the need for a sequel (John Wick tied itself off pretty neatly), but at the same time, the original took a simple narrative concept (don’t kill his dog) and magnified it to exponentially ass-kicking ends. If the sequel takes the same approach of simplicity in narrative (and lets Keanu do his thing), then Reeves stands a strong chance to be the action hero of the year. More ambitious than ever, it’s all coming together for Keanu — 2016 stands to have many narratives unfold, but none of them are as exciting as watching Reeves juggle arthouse and action cinema in his own personal renaissance. Don’t call it a comeback, call it a Reeves-urrection.
Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.