Keanu Reeves is one of the most misunderstood movie stars, a charismatic and engaging performer too often dismissed as an airhead stiff.
It’s true. Reeves is not just the lovably dimwitted Ted Logan, of “Bill & Ted” fame. He’s not just the slick and impossibly suave Neo of “The Matrix.” He’s more than just “Speed.”
He’s also a Shakespearean performer (in Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing”), a star of one of the most significant American independent films ever made (Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho”) and an actor admired by everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Richard Linklater; from Sam Raimi to Kathryn Bigelow.
The star has been known to pop up in the sort of offbeat projects often resisted by Hollywood bigshots of his stature; Reeves played a creepy motel operator in the demented horror satire “The Neon Demon” last year, for example.
No one would deny that the 52-year-old has also fallen victim to the travails of mediocre projects, second-rate knockoffs and action star typecasting. And, yes, his British accent in Coppola’s “Dracula” movie really is that bad.
But this week, “John Wick: Chapter 2” finds Reeves returning to one of his finest roles, as the reluctant hit man who got back into business after the murder of his dog in the original movie. The sequel involves a covert organization of assassins and features a “Matrix” reunion with Laurence Fishburne.
Here, we consider the best roles of Reeves’ career and once and for all dispense of the notion that he’s not very good at what he does:
1 Ted Logan, “Bill & Ted” franchise
It’s the part that shot Reeves to prominence and, as noted earlier, it’s as closely associated with the public’s perception of the performer as anything he’s done. But it’s also a masterwork of innocent comic charm and an apt parody of Californian metalhead culture, circa the late 1980s.
2 Neo, “The Matrix” trilogy
Again, we’d be dishonest if we didn’t acknowledge that the star’s other iconic part represents him at his action star peak, a pitch-perfect piece of minimalist acting that ideally fit the Wachowskis’ leather-clad dystopian vision.
3 Scott Favor, “My Own Private Idaho”
Acting opposite his good friend, the late River Phoenix, Reeves brought a strong combination of confidence and loneliness, strength and confusion, to a rich heir working on the streets in Gus Van Sant’s portrait of gay hustlers in the Pacific Northwest.
4 John Wick, “John Wick” series
Reeves is simply fantastic as Wick, an angrier and grittier character than those he’s played in lesser action movies. In the first movie, his rage at the deadly wrong perpetrated on his beloved pet given to him by his late wife, and all the other emotions accompanying his double loss, are beautifully channeled into his ruthless killing.
5 Bob Arctor, “A Scanner Darkly”
In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, shot with Reeves and other real actors that were then animated over in the rotoscope process, the star expertly handles the complicated task of playing a futuristic anti-drug officer struggling with his own deepening addiction while working undercover.