Tag Archives: Youth

Top Ten Harvey Keitel

Harvey Keitel is one of cinema’s most valued actors.  His brand: tough alpha male, career criminal, and the all-around bad motherfucker.  His filmography is unique; he has been a mainstay in the works of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Toback, Abel Ferrara, and most recently Wes Anderson.  While his hallmark is the tough guy, he’s been able to transform that archetype into colorful dimensional characters that only he could have portrayed on film.  Whether he’s in a crime film, a big budget opus, or an incredibly small independent film, Keitel is always on the mark and he is always fascinating to watch.

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 1974 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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In his third collaboration with his friend Martin Scorsese, Keitel gives a dual layer performance.  He starts out being the affable and charming suitor of Ellen Burstyn’s Alice – until he isn’t.  He’s the all too real sociopath that is able to cover his anger and inner frustration with his charm.  Keitel is frightening in this film, the way he’s able to camouflage the character’s actual motivations and drive is unique to the range he has as an actor.

BAD LIEUTENANT 1992 Dir. Abel Ferrara

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There has never been a performance like Keitel’s turn in BAD LIEUTENANT.  It is as pulverizing as it is soul bearing.  He removes the audience from their comfort zone, and takes them into the heart of darkness, watching a man spiral out of control.  He’s a killer, a gambler, a junkie, a cop – yet he accidentally finds a reason to live through redemption.  While the Bad Lieutenant is incredibly vile, the subtle vulnerability that Keitel graces makes this performance all that more tragic.  Aside from being one of Keitel’s finest performances, this remains one of the best performances in cinema history.

DANGEROUS GAME 1993 Dir. Abel Ferrara

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Off the heels of BAD LIEUTENANT, the seminal trio of Abel Ferrara, Harvey Keitel, and cinematographer Ken Kelsch embarked on one of the most daring and transgressive pseudo autobiographical films, DANGEROUS GAME.  Like Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ or Felini’s 8 ½ Abel Ferrara uses his actor as a vessel to tell his own story on film.  Keitel completely shakes his gangster vibe but leaves his darkness and intensity completely intact to play filmmaker Eddie Israel in a movie within a movie.

FINDING GRACELAND 1998 Dir. David Winkler

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In the vastly underseen FINDING GRACELAND, Keitel plays a quietly broken drifter who claims to be Elvis Presley.  While on the road to Graceland, he gives his most quietly heartfelt performance with an incredible amount of soul and reach.  We’ve seen characters like this before in cinema, but seeing Keitel playing a man claiming to be Elvis, along with singing SUSPICIOUS MINDS, is a one of a kind performance.  Yes.  Harvey Keitel sings Elvis.  That’s worth watching it on its own.

FINGERS 1978 Dir. James Toback

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Somewhere there needs to be a theatre showing a double bill of FIVE EASY PIECES and FINGERS.  This is a key performance from Keitel, where he plays the gangster and the intellectual.  He’s a brutal enforcer for his father, yet doubles as a piano prodigy.  Both sides of himself have one thing in common: sexual addiction.  FINGERS is Toback’s finest hour as a filmmaker, and is yet another performance of Keitel’s that is chalked up in the underseen category.

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST 1988 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese’s most seminal film, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is controversial and monumental for a variety of reasons.  One of the most enamoring aspects is Keitel’s reinvention of Judas.  He’s an insurgent warrior, he’s the loyal follower, and then he becomes the voice of reason while Jesus is being guided through his final temptation.  Keitel’s turn earned him a Razzie nomination, and that is completely off base.  Keitel is brutish and forceful; purposely directed to speak with an overt Brooklyn accent with a new take on the Biblical character.

MEAN STREETS 1973 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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MEAN STREETS is often mentioned as the film that birthed the brilliant collaboration of Scorsese and De Niro, but the film is much more than that.  Keitel takes the lead, as the morally conflicted Charlie who is set to take over for his gangster Uncle, yet having to constantly juggle his wild card best friend Johnny Boy (brilliantly played by De Niro).  De Niro has the flashy role, but Keitel is the foundation of the film.  He’s Scorsese’s alter ego; he is struggling with his faith, his family, and his identity.  Keitel gives an incredibly soft and vulnerable performance as a man who is stuck in his own quagmire, having no way out.

RESERVOIR DOGS 1992 Dir. Quentin Tarantino

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This is the performance where everything Keitel has done before comes to a perfect culmination.  There isn’t an actor who has delivered Tarantino’s dialogue with as much weight as Keitel.  Keitel walks Tarantino’s walk, and in particular talks his talk.  There is a Shakespearean quality to Keitel’s performance in this film.  From the start of the film, we know he’s heading for impending doom, and he does it all with gravitas and honor.

TAXI DRIVER 1976 Dir. Martin Scorsese

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Originally, Scorsese wanted Keitel to play the campaign staffer Tom (the role Albert Brooks knocks out of the park), but instead Keitel wanted to play the pimp who had only a few lines of dialogue in the original screenplay.  Keitel transforms into a smooth and funny character, yet in his private encounter with Iris (Jodie Foster) we see what a master of manipulation and control he is in a creepy and quiet way.

SMOKE 1995 Dir. Wayne Wang

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SMOKE is another one of those quietly underseen gems of independent cinema.  In a very low key way, we see Keitel in a new light. He’s himself, in a certain regard, a brash New Yorker who smokes, runs a tobacco shop, yet he has an undying pension for art.  In this film’s case, he’s a photographer, who has taken the same photograph in the same intersection every day for the past twenty years.  This is a very touching film, and Keitel gives one of his sweetest performances.

YOUTH 2015 Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

HK YOUTH

In a character that is fusion of Charles Bukowski and John Cassavetes, Keitel plays writer/director Mick Boyle who is on his annual holiday in the Swiss Alps with his best friend, Michael Caine.  This was a role that Keitel was born to play.  He’s the artist that is overflowing with creativity and inner torment.  He’s being torn apart by his own emotions and ego, and he gives is a bittersweet showboat of a performance of what it is truly like to be an artist.

Honorable mentions: BAD TIMING, BLUE COLLAR, BUGSY, CITY OF INDUSTRY, COP LAND, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE PIANO 

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YOUTH – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

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YOUTH achieves and exceeds what most pieces of art attempt to do.  This film is brought to us by the genius mind of Paolo Sorrentino, as well as career high performances from Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda.  This film is a testament that is timeless, introspective, existential, and a beautifully painful kaleidoscope of emotions that is life.

Michael Caine is Fred Ballinger, a retied and apathetic conductor who is on holiday at a tranquil and off beat hotel in the Swiss Alps, where he’s been vacationing for the past sixty years with his best friend Mickey a writer/director, perfectly played with gravitas and emotion by the magnificent Harvey Keitel.  Rachel Weisz is brilliant in her duel role as Fred’s assistant and daughter.  Paul Dano yet again holds his own, and is not overshadowed by the acting giants he is put up against, as Jimmy, the resentful and bitter method actor doing research for his next role.

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The pairing up of Caine and Keitel is awe inspiring.  They are two of the very best actors not only from their respective generations, but in cinema itself.  Keitel has always been a personal favorite actor of mine who has been under appreciated and for a majority of his career stuck in the “tough guy” role.  At the age of 76 Keitel is fantastic as the tortured optimist that is a hybrid between Charles Bukowski and John Cassavetes .  As odd of a couple Caine and Keitel are, there are not two actors alive that would be as suited as them for these two roles.

This film is difficult to navigate.  The music, visual style and design soften the coarse and heavy subject matter.  Its structure is purposely off beat, yet Sorrentino masterfully guides us through this journey where conventional plot points do not matter.  We feel what’s happening, and that’s the purpose of this film, channeling raw and perhaps at times, unrecognizable emotion into ourselves.

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Not since THE TREE OF LIFE, has a film taken us on a journey inside the human psyche that is set somewhere between reality and a fever dream.  Paolo Sorrentino masterfully delivers the beautiful showboat that is YOUTH, that rare and elusive film that is as charming, poignant, inspiring, and at times devastating as life itself.