Welcome to another entry into Was It Really That Bad?, the series dedicated to defending much maligned films and performances. Last time, I told you guys why I think M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004) is actually quite a good film. People love to hate on it, but I rather like it. A similar thing happens to Cyberpunk 2077‘s favorite character actor and his role as Jonathan Harker in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992). But I think there are some redeeming facets to his performance! So, with the film hitting Shudder earlier this month, let’s settle this: Was Keanu Reeves Really That Bad in Dracula?
The Actually Bad Stuff: The Accent
I’ll be the first to admit that Keanu Reeves’ British accent is as believeable as mine would be (spoiler: I’m Hispanic). While talking about this very article with other Dread Central team members, they argued that Reeves was basically playing a slighty Britanized version of Ted from Bill and Ted, Keanu’s biggest role up until that point.
I, however, feel like Keanu just played Keanu in Bill and Ted, and therefore, he plays a Britanized Keanu in Dracula. At any rate, it’s hard to argue against people who hate the accent, because it’s simply laughable. So, if we’re to answer the question “Was Keanu Reeves Really That Bad in Dracula?” just on this alone, the answer would be a resounding affirmative. However…
The Arguably Bad Stuff: The Rest of the Cast
Now, I’m a huge fan of Gary Oldman and Wynona Rider’s performance in Dracula. But having revisited the film for this piece, I realized that the whole cast play their parts with all of the subtletly of a jackhammer. I have nothing against theatrics and histrionics, but I think a lot of us forget the context against which Keanu’s performance is being played.
And that’s the key: context. This isn’t Fuller’s Hannibal, where performances are masterfully subdued. This is pomp and circumstane at the higest Wagnerian level. It’s just ridiculous by modern filmmaking standards. And I know that people spoke differently back then, but this is just too much. So, yes, Reeves’ accent is a bit crap. But The other performances are incredibly overdone, so it’s not really as out of place as I remembered it. Just listen to Hopkin’s “Ja” as Van Helsing. Hilarious!
The Arguably Good Stuff: Keanu’s Voice Over Isn’t As Bad
As I mentioned before, I’ll freely admit that Reeves’ accent while acting in a scene is not great. But I was actually very surprised at how solid it was during most voice-over portions. As we know, Dracula is written from the perspective of diary entries (the original found footage horror “film”).
When Keanu goes to the sound booth, it’s actually a lot more bearable. It’s far from a Patrick Stewart performance, sure, but it’s not that bad. It’s a low bar, but it exceeds it nonetheless.
The Actually Good Stuff: The Subtext
My favorite part of Keanu as Harker is, actually, the subtext. He plays his role like he’s fumbling through it. And that’s actually how Harker’s character behaves in the book. I don’t see a solid, knowing, mature man. When I read Dracula, I see Harker as a young guy who is way over his head.
I feel like Keanu’s performance, crappy accent and all, lends a lot of credibility to this subtext. To me, it makes it even more obvious that Jonathan is a man-child, an endearing fool, not some hotshot lawyer. Am I reaching for straws? Perhaps. But art is in the eye of the beholder, and to me, even the accent contributes to Harker feeling like he’s just playing the part of a lawyer. He’s just a child inside.
So: Was Keanu Reeves Really That Bad in Dracula?
I mean, it wasn’t his best performance. But I don’t think it’s as bad as people remember it. Context matters in film. His performance wasn’t delivered among a sea of subtlety. It was paired with the horniest (bordering on rapey), most over-acted portrayal of the source material in some time. Just look at Gary Oldman’s glasses and tell me that this movie wasn’t all about the theater of it.
At the end of the day, you may like it, you may hate it. But before you talk about it next time, re-visit Keanu’s performance in the film. Watch it as a part of a whole. Take Harker’s own personality into the equation. You may be surprised yet.