When he’s calm, Keane (Damian Lewis) is soft spoken, considerate, sincere, a father wounded to the soul by the abduction of his young daughter. But Keane suffers from schizophrenia, and when he slips out of control and turns obsessive and irrational—leaping to impulsive conclusions, acting on delusional hunches, diving into benders of booze and cocaine—he’s terrifying.
The beauty of Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane (2004) is that we are scared of him while we are also scared for him. Especially when he befriends a single mom (Amy Ryan) and her seven year old girl Kira (Abigail Breslin), a fragile little thing who latches on to Keane like a long lost father. He reciprocates with a tender protectiveness. Her vulnerability brings out the gentle manner of a caring father that has been overwhelmed by his mania.
It’s an amazing performance by Lewis, a portrait of an obsessive suffering from both mental illness and unremitting grief, surviving on disability checks in a world that without a safety net. Kerrigan keeps the camera uncomfortably tight on Lewis’ face and the intimacy gives us a startling view of his loss of composure mixed with terrified awareness. Especially once he becomes Kira’s unofficial guardian and he fights to remain in control out of fear for her safety.
Young Abigail Breslin matches Lewis as the wounded little girl lost, terrified that her mother may have abandoned her like her father did so long ago yet filled with compassion for Keane. Her concern for him as he fights to keep from spiraling back into anger and violence is heartbreaking. Two years later, Breslin showed a different side of her as the spunky daughter in Little Miss Sunshine.
Affliction has rarely been so sensitively presented or intelligently explored.
The restoration of this American indie debuts on Criterion Channel.