Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Keep. B

The Keep is quintessential B movie pulp except that it's more intelligent than most since it was written by (and directed) by Michael Mann. Mann loves studying people, both in groups and individually. He cares about their motivations, what they're thinking right now each and every second they're on screen. It's hard to really tell who The Keep is about since there are really three people who pretty equally share the movie's running time of 95 minutes. It starts out being about a Nazi captain, played by Jurgen Prochnow. He has just taken over a Romanian citadel that contains a strange supernatural force unbeknownst to him. When it kills two of his soldiers who were attempting to steal inlayed luminescent crosses, a Jewish historian (Ian McKellen) is summoned to find out more about the mysteries of the keep. Around the same time, a lone drifter (Scott Glenn) arrives from Greece on a motorcycle and proceeds to fall in love with the historian's daughter as well as destroy the monster within the keep. Glenn makes for the least interesting character, clearly a Western archetype with strange supernatural abilities of his own. Prochnow and McKellen are surprisingly deep, though. They're both searching for different types of power, yet ultimately sacrifice these desires in exchange for an upright conscience. It's a glimmer of the morality that always sneaks through the seams of Mann's movies. This is old Michael Mann, not as good as his later work, no, but undeniably still Michael Mann. In this movie he seems more like an obsessed history/sci-fi nerd than a director motivated by crimes of the world and of the heart. And like some of his later work, he struggles a bit with the romance. But the movie proves that Mann's a born visual filmmaker. Though his narrative strengths arrived later, his style is deeply felt here. His love of the sky, his love of producing color when it's most difficult to find, and his complex compositions, beautiful mosaics that evoke a pureness he can only find in nature or cities, things innocent in and of themselves. You can see glimpses here of why he became our greatest director.

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