While Keanu Reeves is, without doubt, one of the most significant Hollywood icons of the last 30 years, arguments have been stirred in some circles that the Canadian actor is not the best of the bunch when it comes to the art of acting.
It’s a strange position to be in, especially considering that Reeves has starred in some of the greatest films of the past three decades, including the original Matrix trilogy, the surf-cop-action film Point Break and Gus Van Sant‘s queer independent flick My Own Private Idaho. While Keanu’s roles in these films have been central to their success, his acting skills are not enough to blow you away.
Perhaps Reeves’ success in the aforementioned films, amongst many others, comes down to several other factors. For starters, the man is incredibly physically admirable. That will always get you off the ground and at least get you into the audition. So too was Reeves’ former success in 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure a vital proponent in propelling him into further, more serious, roles.
In many ways, Reeves’ performance in Bill & Ted did not require anything beyond portraying a ‘bogus’ slacker. Looking back at early footage of Reeves – particularly this coverage of a 1984 Teddy Bear Convention – shows that, if anything, Reeves was playing himself.
Upon closer examination of Reeves’ acting style, his delivery of certain lines creates a jarring juxtaposition between their awkwardness and brilliance. Take, for instance, Point Break. When Reeves’ character, Johnny Utah, reveals his true identity to the group of surfers-come-thieves that he is “an FBI agent”, the delivery of the line feels as though a better take could have been achieved. And yet, despite the line throwing us off for a split second, it doesn’t matter one bit.
In some ways, the poor delivery of the line actually enhances its effectiveness. Keanu Reeves is not a method actor; he’s someone who learned their trade in cheesy 1980s Coca-Cola commercials. When Reeves announces his name to the love interest in Point Break, he again somewhat badly yells out: “My name’s Johnny Utah”. She aptly replies, “Who cares?” Because who does care? He’s brilliant.
Point Break, although arguably one of the best action films of all time in its own right, is a bit silly and cheesy. So the delivery of Reeves’ line is perfectly suited to the nature of the film. This sentiment is also evident in The Matrix when Reeves’ Neo delivers the by-now iconic line, “I know kung-fu”. Again, the line is just slightly off, but it doesn’t matter.
So it’s unfair to refer to Keanu Reeves as a ‘bad actor’. He’s not, and most of those who relegate him to such status are likely to have never had a camera pointed at them. With his beyond charitable public affairs and unique style of acting, Reeves ought to be considered one of the greatest.