We’ve all seen the Sad Keanu memes, and a number of details from the “Point Break” and “Matrix” star’s biography do indeed point toward tragedy. The actor is known for thrilling us rather than saddening us nevertheless, not that there aren’t a few exceptions to prove the rule (even if none of them involve him eating a sandwich on his lonesome).
With “To the Bone” premiering on Netflix this Friday, take a moment to relive some of Keanu’s saddest performances.
Maybe it’s the fact that he’s acting opposite River Phoenix, a friend who died just two years after Gus Van Sant’s early classic was released, but it’s hard not to feel for Keanu in “My Own Private Idaho.” A soon-to-be-wealthy heir, his Scott is always looking after his narcoleptic best friend (Phoenix, whose character is also in love with his bestie); they cover a lot of ground during their journey, but don’t exactly have a happy destination. Scott is last seen attending his father’s funeral, leaving him financially secure and potentially friendless — if only their bond were as strong as the one between Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esq.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula”
Not his best performance, but one of his most ambitious. Bad things have a habit of befalling anyone who hangs around a certain Transylvanian count, whose hunger for blood is insatiable. Jonathan Harker doesn’t have an easy go of it, and neither did Keanu after Francis Ford Coppola’s take on that most famous of vampires as released: Much of the “Keanu can’t act” discourse centers around “Dracula,” which few would argue finds him at this best. But it does demonstrate how internalized the oft-underrated actor’s style can be, as though it’s more difficult for him to coax whatever emotions he might be feeling to the surface than it is for other performers. That’s sad in and of itself, and a reminder that Keanu’s talents are better suited to a certain kind of material.
“The Matrix Revolutions”
The final chapter in the “Matrix” trilogy made pretty much everybody sad, though not necessarily for the right seasons. Still, there’s no denying that the film finds Neo at his most forlorn — forced to soldier on after the death of his beloved, he eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that no more lives are lost in the Great Robot War (that’s what it’s called, right?). All the fun and action of the original movie (and, to a lesser extent, the first sequel as well) gradually give way to a brooding, at times laborious atmosphere of dread. Talk about bogus.
“I saw death rising from the earth, from the ground itself, in one blue field…a present for my friends at Thanksgiving.” Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel shifts tones throughout, but the book’s status as a memorial to the author’s friends whom drugs got the best of informs its melancholy arc. Keanu plays a detective who’s in over his head without realizing it, and though the film is mordantly funny it’s also increasingly sad — especially as concerns the animated gumshoe. Substance D: just say no.
Widely seen as a return to form for the action star, this franchise-starter is also born of grief. Reeves plays the title character, who’s already mourning his wife when bad guys with no idea what they’ve just done kill his precious doggo. The despair this instills in our trigger-happy hero is nothing compared to the grief he visits upon his enemies. As is often the case in his action movies, though, Reeves doesn’t delight in taking lives and exacting vengeance — there’s a certain melancholy to his murder, and neither his wife nor his pup is ever far from his mind.