by Ben Sachs
Yet Birdman merely shines a spotlight on qualities that Keaton's displayed in most of his movies, namely a mix of spontaneity and mindfulness. Keaton's one of those actors who always looks like he's thinking when he's onscreen—and he's typically at his best when he's playing a character who has to think under pressure. This would explain why he thrives in films that take place over relatively short periods: The Paper, Game 6, Birdman, or for that matter, Blindsided, which unfolds over a single evening. Keaton has a grand time in this film, and if you're a fan of the actor you probably will too.
The film is a terse but nicely shaded crime movie that evokes superior 50s B noirs (a description that would also apply to Keaton's underrated directorial debut, The Merry Gentleman), featuring Keaton as the film noir archetype he was born to play: the loquacious, philosophical psychopath. (The film also suggests an unofficial remake of the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark.) Keaton's Hollander is an aging crime boss whose work is his life—he's so devoted to his criminal enterprise that he cancels New Year's Eve plans just to torment the former associate who ran off with his stash of diamonds, bringing along an underling to carry out orders and listen to his impromptu monologues. He's almost as pathetic as he is menacing—when one of his victims tells him he talks too much, he doesn't bother to contradict her—and the typically mercurial Keaton moves effortlessly between these two sides of Hollander's persona.
It's the pathetic side that makes Hollander compelling. Like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Keaton plays the role sans hairpiece, suggesting the character has become so overwhelmed by greed that he's stopped caring about his appearance. It doesn't take much to push this man to the end of his rope, as much as he tries to play it cool. And so Hollander quickly unravels as he searches for his diamonds, growing ever more desperate as he tries to force his former associate's blind girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) into saying where they're hidden. The narrative is perfectly tuned to Keaton's screen persona—every few scenes Hollander racks his brains to come up with a new way to frighten the poor woman.
I've been vague about the plot of Blindsided because it contains so many surprises. Suffice it to say that Joseph Ruben—who directed the memorable genre films Dreamscape (1985) and The Stepfather (1987)—handles the twists nicely, having about as much fun with the material as Keaton does. The filmmaking is in fact rather elegant for a genre exercise. Ruben finds ways to play on the viewer's expectations in most every scene, creating little bursts of suspense separate from the larger plot. Consider the way he stages a scene involving Monaghan and a corpse lying in a pool of blood. Both the camera and Monaghan keep skirting the corpse—though of course one can see it while the other can't. For a few moments the film boils down to a single question: When will she realize there's a corpse in the room? Ruben's Hitchcockian handling of objects and physical space grounds Blindsided in a sense of cinematic tradition, creating a nice frisson with Keaton's in-the-moment performance.