Directed by: Michael Mann.
Written by: Michael Mann based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson.
Starring: Scott Glenn (Glaeken), Alberta Watson (Eva Cuza), Ian McKellen (Dr. Cuza / Dr. Theodore Cuza), Jürgen Prochnow (Woermann), Robert Prosky (Father Fonescu), Gabriel Byrne (Kaempffer), William Morgan Sheppard (Alexandru), Royston Tickner (Tomescu), Michael Carter (Radu Molasar), Phillip Joseph (Oster), John Vine (Lutz), Jona Jones (Otto), Wolf Kahler (S.S. Adjutant), Rosalie Crutchley (Josefa).
You can find someone out there to champion any Michael Mann film – to tell you that this one really is Mann’s masterpiece. Well, every film Mann has made except for The Keep from 1983 that is. No one likes The Keep. Hell, no one even watches The Keep any more – it has never even been released on DVD (for the record, iTunes Canada had it for a rental). For a director as great as Mann, who has only made 11 films, having one of them unavailable for so long is unthinkable – or so I thought before watching The Keep. Having now seen it, all I can say is that unless you are a Mann completest, there really isn’t any reason to watch the film.
Okay, perhaps that is a little unfair. The score by Tangerine Dream is, like all of their work, bizarre, mechanical, strange and memorable – none of those terms means good (per se), but it’s something. And, for the most part, The Keep does look good (if you watch the film, remember I said “for the most part” when the presence in the keep takes a physical form). These elements may not immediately identify the film as a Michael Mann film – but if you squint, it comes close.
The problem with The Keep is that basically the entire storyline is incoherent. This is what happens when a fairly new director makes a larger budget film for a studio, and reportedly delivered a three and a half hour cut of a film that was probably meant to be a goofy lark of a fantasy film, not a strange, existential treatise on good and evil, featuring a hero playing by Scott Glenn with glowing eyes, who rides his motorcycle deep into Romania to stop the evil force that Nazis have released from its ancient tomb (he can sense this, by the way, from Greece). The Nazis don’t know what they have done – so they call in a Jewish doctor (Ian McKellan), who was born in the tiny village by the keep, and his daughter (Alberta Watson) to help them. There are good Nazis – some who are sympathetic and don’t much care for this Hitler fellow, and there are bad Nazis – who show up in town, and immediately shoot a bunch of the villagers because, well, that’s what bad Nazis do, right? There is a priest in town (Robert Prosky), but other than yell a lot in the early going, he doesn’t do much.
For the most part, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense. Basically, Ian McKellan’s Jewish doctor makes a deal with the spirit inside The Keep that he will bring a talisman outside that will allow the spirit to flourish outside of the walls that it has been imprisoned in for who knows how long. To McKellan, this doesn’t sound so bad – and he has a point. After all, this spirit or presence or whatever has, indeed, melted some Nazis, and has given him back his youth energy that had all but left him. But then, why would the glowing eyed Scott Glenn – with the great character name of Glaeken – show up to put a stop to it? (Why Glaeken stops on the way to have a psychedelic sex scene with McKellan’s daughter is another unanswered question).
You can see glimpses of what Michael Mann was going for in The Keep. In the score, in some of the visuals, in the portrait of good and evil, both trapped in the same cycle, etc. Who knows, maybe if the original three and half hour long cut ever surfaces, what we will discover is a lost masterpiece (I wouldn’t bet on either of those things – that it will resurface, or that it would a masterpiece if it did, but who knows?). But ultimately The Keep is a failure – an ambitious movie that never comes together to form a cohesive whole. A lumbering movie that flies off the rails in the last third. Simply put, it’s probably the worst film Michael Mann will ever make.