There’s this idea that’s been floating around our society for some time now that Keanu Reeves is a bad actor. I’d be lying if I told you that I haven’t participated in the propagation of this belief. After all, outside of a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award for best actor in his role as Neo in The Matrix, Keanu hasn’t received much of any recognition from the Hollywood establishment. He hasn’t had a Sandra Bullock or Matthew McConaughey-esque turnaround. There’s no Keanu equivalent to The Blindside or Dallas Buyers Club, at least not yet. Some might claim that he gets by on his looks, and similar to an incompetent politician or Miley Cyrus, remains employed due to name recognition. As the Oracle says in The Matrix, “You’re cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.” Only, replace “she” with the moviegoers of the world. But is that the end of the matter? Is Keanu Reeves in movies despite his acting chops, or are we missing something? What if there was something brilliant about this man that we’ve overlooked? Allow me to present a case for the misunderstood brilliance of Keanu Reeves. Whoa!
As a fan of the Zelda video game series it didn’t take long for me to question why the main character, Link, never (almost never) says a word. You play through 30+ hours with the same character and never get his input about the unfolding events. This is certainly odd, but upon analysis it’s actually quite ingenious. As you’re accompanying the hero on his quest you are allowed to imprint yourself onto his character. What might appear to some as a hollow shell is actually a ready vessel through which we can fill our own selves. In the same way, this most common critique of Keanu, that he’s a hollow shell of an actor, is actually a trait pointing to his brilliance. Stories of all kinds are meant to connect with an audience, and that is achieved through suspension of belief by way of approachable heroes. In other words, since we are ultimately reading ourselves into these stories (because what’s more interesting than yourself?) it is more readily achieved in a soft-spoken everyman persona, primed for relatability.
On the same note, Keanu’s “hollowness” and what some might deem as a lack of charisma is perfectly centered to connect with the maximum number of moviegoers. Let me explain using this professional scale.
Imagine that this scale measures two extremes of personality. The closer you get to 10, the more positive and cheerful you become. The closer you get to 0, the more negative and depressed you become. Now suppose that between these two extremes are the 7 billion people in the world today. Which number do you think is the closest to the majority of people? I’d say it is 5. Not only is it right in the middle, it’s the perfect balance between 2 extremes. Keanu Reeves is a 5, able to reach the multitudes.
The final way Keanu has showcased his brilliance is through the art of lowered expectations. By not peaking early in his career, or amassing a pile of accolades, he has left us vulnerable to the shock and awe effect of receiving a performance greater than mediocre. Like a lioness humbling herself in the grass, Keanu Reeves is waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting world. One great performance will bring down the gazelle of unfavorable public opinion.
As I eagerly await the release of Keanu’s next film, John Wick, I hope that the world will finally understand the genius of his craft. He isn’t a bad actor who got a few lucky breaks. He’s a brilliant actor, perfectly positioned to impact the greatest number of people by exceeding their diminished expectations.