The career of Keanu Reeves has been a long and storied one, to say the very least.
Beginning his career in the 1986 drama film Flying, Reeves has since established himself as a mainstay of Hollywood cinema, particularly in the action genre, and for very good reason.
To address the elephant in the room though, there have been those in the past who have accused Reeves of lacking inherent acting ability, though this is simply not the case.
While the actor is certainly not perfect, such accusations stem from several instances of miscasting. Most notable of these is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where Reeves proved that he is totally incapable of doing a British accent. Yet it is worth noting that Reeves, at the time, was a young actor looking to maintain his hard-earned star status, and was given the opportunity to work with THE Francis Ford Coppola. To pass up such an opportunity at that point in his career would have been utter madness. In fact, it was the duty of those behind the camera to decide if Reeves was suited to the role to begin with.
Despite the miscasting, Bram Stoker’s Dracula nonetheless stands as one of the many instances where Reeves has worked with an esteemed legend of the film industry. The actor unquestionably thrives most in action features, but he has proven himself capable of conveying deep emotional weight too, and some heavyweight directors have taken notice, such as Gus Van Sant, Bernardo Bertolucci, Richard Linklater, and Stephen Frears, to name but a few.
In the process, Reeves has earned a reputation as not only a talented actor amongst film circles, but also as an immensely agreeable, dedicated worker, and all-round nice guy.
Interestingly, his amiable nature clashes with some of his most iconic roles, which involves Reeves’ either hurting or killing people in creative, sometimes brutal ways. Nonetheless, he is one of the best in the business, proving, alongside Tom Cruise, that the 50s are the new 40s when it comes to the action genre.
So in the wake of his latest release, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, here is my list of Keanu Reeves’ Top 5 Films.
- Point Break (1991)
Point Break certainly didn’t break the mould of action cinema in any significant way, but what it did do is pair taught, expertly choreographed action with a well-developed and intriguing relationship between the hero and villain.
Reeves plays the former, an FBI agent tasked with infiltrating a group of thrill-seeking bank robbers led by the late Patrick Swayze. Future Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow proves that she can not only do action set-pieces just as well as her then-husband James Cameron, but also the character component that comes with it.
Reeves steps up as the young and brash FBI agent, but it is his intensity in the film’s moments of action that best highlights his contributions here, as well as foreshadowing his career to come.
- Speed (1994)
Reeves’ second foray into the action genre is not only one of his most iconic roles, but also a film that lives up to every letter of its name.
Directed by Dutch filmmaker Jan de Bont, this cinematic rollercoaster ride was a surprise hit upon its release, recuperating more than ten times its modest $30 million budget.
Where Point Break proved that Reeves was more than capable of helming an action flick, Speed’s stellar box office run solidified his status as a bankable commodity within the genre.
What’s more, Reeves and co-star Sandra Bullock displayed an inherent chemistry that heightened the relatable drama playing out in the speeding bus, very much holding his own with the esteemed actress, in addition to the legendary Denis Hopper, who plays the film’s villain.
Interestingly enough, not only did Speed prove to be one Reeves’ wisest career moves, but so too was his refusal to return for the obligatory sequel, even despite the promise of a hefty pay cheque. Speed 2: Cruise Control, as it was called, went on to be a box office disappointment, and is frequently listed as one of the worst sequels of all time.
- John Wick (2014)
First and foremost, John Wick helped re-establish Reeves as one of the top action stars in the world, and for very good reason.
To begin with, the screenplay by Derek Kolstad flips the conventions of action cinema on its head, with an anti-hero whose vengeance is driven by the murder of a dog given to him by his recently deceased wife. All the while, Kolstad carefully crafts a world of lore than would leave George R. R. Martin watering at the mouth.
Reeves gives one of the finest performances of his career in John Wick, perfectly conveying a grieving man denied the peace the so seeks. But the power of Reeves’ doesn’t end there. The then-50 year old actor performed the numerous action scenes with an energy and vigour unseen since his Matrix days, and even then the stunts were not as visually grounded as the ones seen in John Wick.
In a cinematic climate where the average action film was becoming chaotic to the point of incomprehension, John Wick was as a breath of fresh air, serving to remind Hollywood that you didn’t always have to use a myriad of shots and angles to depict exhilaratingly choreographed action.
- John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
With a larger budget and an action star very much at the top of his game, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a bigger and better than its already impressive predecessor in almost every way.
Given that studios felt more comfortable with budget given John Wick’s initial success, director Chad Stahelski was able to pour money into larger-scale set-pieces, but also the expansion of its rich lore, consequently creating a world of assassins that feels rewardingly lived-in. What’s more, Stahelski doubles down on the distinctive, neon-tinted style that practically oozes from the screen.
Meanwhile, Reeves is given even more to do here with regards to fleshing out John’s character, carrying the weight of each decision he makes in a manner that admirably differs from that of the first. Instead of copying and pasting the John Wick of yore, Reeves opts instead for dimension, with critics and audiences alike lauding actor’s resounding return to world stage of action cinema in the process.
And of course, it practically goes without saying that Reeves crushes each and every one of his impeccably choreographed action sequences.
- The Matrix
Without The Matrix, there simply would never have been John Wick, and for more reasons than one might initially imagine.
For starters, Reeves met future John Wick series director Chad Stahelski on the set of The Matrix, who acted as a stunt coordinator and double for him. This later led to Reeves recommending both he and David Leitch (who worked with Reeves in The Matrix sequels) direct the first John Wick instalment.
Though of course, the main reason is that The Matrix is one of the greatest and most influential action films of all time. It defined Western action cinema as it moved into the 21st Century, while somehow blending in complex themes of existential philosophy that exceeded anything that had come before in the genre.
While Reeves’ strongest performances are in the John Wick films, his acting here is nothing to be scoffed at either, particularly when it comes to his execution of the fight choreography. Neo’s is the perfect hero arc, and Reeves does a wonderful job of instilling a sense of doubt in his role and the Chosen One, to the point that even audiences question its validity, consequently strengthening the impact of The Matrix’s already immensely satisfying final act.
As important as The Matrix was to Reeves’ career, its resounding importance to world of cinema as a whole cannot be overstated.
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