This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Rembrandt Q Pumpernickel’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock have great chemistry in this film, yet they didn't do another film together for 12 years. I never saw The Lakehouse, but I heard they're not even onscreen together for most of the movie. I don't think I have the type of talent to ever make a film, but some of this stuff seems fairly straightforward, you know? Like when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers found each other, they made 10 movies together. Why are there only two films with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts? Why only three with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? I'm not saying I love all these pairings, but considering audiences got two volcano movies, you'd think Hollywood would actually overstuff its audiences whenever two people sparked on screen together. It seems like a real missed opportunity.
Getting back to the movie... Some people call Speed Die Hard on a bus although I think a lot of what works about Speed is its inversion of Die Hard's, at that point, established tropes. Speed has a single villain, mostly decent/intelligent cops, a flipped inversion in that it isn't all about the money (standard before Die Hard), a community of people in danger (as opposed to mostly no names the audience never cares about), and a surprisingly calm and stoic hero. Almost everything that made Die Hard noteworthy is flipped here, providing a more unique experience than many other 80s and 90s action flicks that merely copied McTiernan's successful formula.
While the gimmick of Speed is what it's likely most remembered for (and the fact that it basically never stops being an action set piece but for maybe half a scene total in the film), what continues to make the film work for me is the grounded humanity Reeves brings. The elevator sequence almost works as a bit of a mislead, his cool demeanor while trying to figure out what to do and casual shrug after he shoots his partner seem to hint that we're in for another instance of a cool-as-a-cucumber action hero who stays above the fray. But despite seeming monk-like at times, Reeves' Jack Traven bubbles with surprising emotion. He approaches the bus like a bomb in itself, another situation for him to defuse. And he attempts to remain the anti-bomb, never explosive, always controlled. But Reeves works in little hints about what his character is really like leading up to my favorite scene in the film, which is when he finds that his partner has died. One of my few complaints about the film is this scene isn't given its emotional due. Jan de Bont's relentless intensity to barrel the film forward for once makes it miss the mark. But even in the little bit we do see, it opens up the character in a way I still really appreciate.
Reading a little something about this film, apparently much of the writer and director's concerns were about keeping the audience in the moment and not having them question the reality of such an unrealistic scenario. It's strange how much films have changed in 20 years. Having seen the latest Fast and Furious installment, Speed seems almost documentary like in its dedication to realism.