Few have made the comeback Michael Keaton has done. The perennial star of 1989 returned with a bang, both saluting his iconic superhero and questioning the fame around it.
´Birdman´ proved that Keaton was more than just an eighties/nineties celebrity clutching for his breath (the same of which cannot be applied to his peers Pierce Brosnan or Richard Dean Anderson), but a viable tour de force he has always been. An Oscar nomination sealed his reputation in the world of cinema, affording him a dignity years after his ´Batman´ prime.
Although Keaton´s career has seen its share of twists and turns (few of his performances between 1998 and 2008 are memorable), he as shown himself as a chameleon, capable of making any part his own, before distinguishing them from one another. Capable of playing a leading man with aplomb, enjoys being a member of ensemble, Keaton has the presence to play many differing parts.
A career that started in the eighties, veering to the present day (his performance in 2015´s ´Spotlight´ is very strong indeed), Keaton has kept his character above water, remaining one of the best actors who works in Hollywood.
The Other Guys (Adam McKay, 2010)
One of the funnier supporting performances in recent years, Keaton´s Captain Gene Mauch is the burly boss workers can´t make their minds up about, but audiences cherish. Insisting on the title Captain Gene, Keaton delivers the witticisms faster than Mark Wahlberg´s Tery Woitz can shoot bullets; “just captain. It sounds creepy captain Gene”.
Co-starring alongside Will Ferrell is never an easy task, but Keaton manages it well, without attempting to upstage the former ´Saturday Night Live´ performer. Placing himself into a wrestling scene, conveniently taking place at a funeral, Keaton´s physical comedic side takes stage as he whispers fear into the troops at his side. Throwing himself into the centre of the fight, Mauch is both methodical and imperious.
Ultimately, Keaton reminds audiences alike the humanity within him, placing his life for his family as he later exclaims; “Listen guys, I’ve got two jobs. I work here, and I have another job at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I’m doing it to put a kid through NYU, so he can explore his bisexuality and become a DJ.” It´s witty, it´s human, it´s Keaton at his best, and this is a comedic performance for the age
Mr. Mom (Stan Dagoti, 1983)
Yes, the film´s not aged well, the film is at times both mysognistic and misandristic, the road opened up for a succession of sub-par John Hughes script. But where Keaton is concerned, he is, at all times, watchable, affable and at times heart-rendering. As pre-described in the title, Keaton plays Jack Butler, a stay at home parent, grappling with the realities of familial domesticity.
Taking a parental role, perhaps not well-recgonised in early eighties cinema, Butler struggles with the care of his children, before he realises the benefits of the vocation.
Dividing his attention over his three offspring (“Kenny, don’t paint your sister! “- classic line) and the everyday chores, Keaton shades his character with innocuous witticisms to get himself through an average day. Keaton shines as the every man, unused to this seeming change of lifestyle; gender roles, regardless, this is a strong performance from any actor.
“Honey, you gave me some real good advice once, so let me give you some of my own. It’s real easy to forget what’s important, so don’t.” A profound line, it illustrates Butler´s transformation from macho breadwinner to reflective human, Keaton gives a rounded performance regarding the changing perspective´s and reflection´s of a man who changes.
Regardless of the film´s ending (nonsensical to watch in 2016), Keaton is nuanced enough to invest in the character´s struggles, not seen with such vigor since Dustin Hoffman´s Ted Kramer.
Night Shift (Ron Howard, 1982)
“What if you mix the mayonnaise in the can, WITH the tunafish? Or… hold it! Chuck! I got it! Take LIVE tuna fish, and FEED ’em mayonnaise! Oh this is great.” Keaton´s first full length role comes in Ron Howard´s erratic and eccentric comedy. Deathly funny (not least as it is set in a morgue),Keaton plays an unusually energetic co-worker to Henry Winkler´s stodgy Chuck. The yang to Chuck´s ying, Bill Blazejowski is a loose canon, showcasing Keaton´s comedic penchant.
“Isn´t this a great country” Blazejowski quips about making money, perennially walking in the style of a lay-about, placing himself in everyday situations with stoical recgonition, he is the everyday man, the funny sidekick to the lead, the Manuel to an exasperated Basil Fawlty.
The funniest scene between Keaton and Wrinkler occurs over a discussion about prostitution, as Wrinkler grows ever more exasperated, Keaton keeps himself grounded.
Putting chalk on a blackboard he throws together a lesson all teachers would be too afraid to break down: ” Let’s break up the word. First there’s Pros… well, that doesn’t mean anything really… then there’s Tit… we all know what that means… and then there’s shun to shun is to say No! To push it away! To shun something is, well… it really doesn’t belong in this word at all, really.”
With such panache, Blazejowski gustily puts in the work, both flippant and ascerbic. One of the more under-rated performance in an eighties comedy, rivaling John Belushi´s long list of smucks.
Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh, 1993)
Scraggy haired and shabby, loquacious, but twee, Dogsberry is the perfect sidekick for the leading characters. Given long extended pieces of linguistic verbatim, Keaton gives Dogberry the diction of a drunken vagabond, evoking Samuel Beckett´s ´Waiting For Godot´almost as much as he inherites the Bard.
“Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly; they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves. ” Keaton´s delivery is thrown and slurred; the perfect contrast to his Batman/Bruce Wayne persona only a year earlier.
Although the film is one of Kenneth Branagh´s lesser Shakespearian adaptations, the cast choice is strong, with Keaton´s debauched portrayal contrasting Branagh and Emma Thompson´s clearer pronunciation.
A cad at heart, Keaton maintains a certain twinkle in his eye which keeps the audience from despairing for him, making for an interesting film performance, matching the conventionally theatrical actors (a la Richard Briers, Branagh etc) for tone, engagement and character.
Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
Elmore Leonard´s favourite adaptation of one of his works delved into the real world of money smuggling between Mexico and the United States. As agent Ray Nicolette, Keaton is at his physical best, upping the machism frequently found in Tarantino´s work, grounding it in a rugged cop.
Playing alongside the excellent Pam Grier ( at her finest seventies cool), Nicolette feels put together, focused and cool, “I sure you didn´t do anything stupid” he warns her after a diatribe given about her unable to recipirocate due to here posterior in delicate underwear.
As with much of the film, Keaton´s performance is reminiscent of nineteen seventies cool. Where he differs from Grier is his cool refers as much to Paul Newman and Steve McQueen as it does to the blaxploitation films. Keaton maintains composure and collection, impressive given the films involvement with drug dealing and crime, giving gravitas and an icon for adolescent men.
Perhaps Tarantino´s most underappreciated film (it has its fans, ranging from critic Mark Kermode and Tarantino collaborator Samuel L. Jackson, both who claim it as their favourite Tarantino film), it is helped by Keaton´s bruly and physical appearance, keeping the film flowing, much as the script´s rhythm gets stronger. Keaton reprised the character (albeit briefly) in a scene in ´Out of Sight´, but had a significantly smaller performance
Clean And Sober (Glenn Gordon, 1988)
“He’s a hotshot Philadelphia real-estate salesman, but by the time the movie opens, there is nothing in his life of any importance, really, but cocaine.” So wrote Roger Ebert summarising Michael Keaton´s lead as Daryl Poynter, an everyday seller suffering from addictions far worse than the sales business. Praising his “wild, tumultous energy”, Ebert tapped into what made Keaton´s performance so riveting, yet so humane.
Years before Ewen McGregor and Leonardo DiCaprio attempted similar performances, Keaton showed a three -dimensional portrayal of a man struggling with his greatest enemy: himself. Maintaining an everyday job with his ever growing dependence to substances, Keaton´s displays the every -day struggles with nuanced gestures a la nervous laughter, fickle eye movement and genuine occasional erratic screaming. It may not be a crowd-pleasing performance, for sure, but it is certainly a memorable one.
“The subject matter was so difficult, but oddly everyone really had fun on the shoot,”Keaton admitted in a 2011 retrospective. “That’s one of the great joys and bonuses of it. You’re forced to ask certain questions.”
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988)
Sublety isn´t necessarily the adjective a person would use to describe Keaton´s powerhouse performance here, but neither is it an adjective much desired either. As the eponymous character, Keaton throws every crazy motion into his set, including a penchant for gloriously dark, sardonic humour; “I´ve seen the exorcist 167 times and it keeps getting funnier each time I see it”. His first collaboration with stylist Tim Burton, Keaton completely changes his image, immersing himself in the style of a vagabond.
He´s seen it all, lived through it all and displays the world with such ironic throwaways Beckett himself would give two thumbs up to. “I’m a graduate of the Harvard business school. I travel quite extensively. I lived through the Black Plague and had a pretty good time during that. I’ve seen the EXORCIST ABOUT A HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SEVEN TIMES, AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT… NOT TO MENTION THE FACT THAT YOU’RE TALKING TO A DEAD GUY… NOW WHAT DO YOU THINK? You think I’m qualified?”
One of the more iconic performances of the eighties, Keaton´s manic portrayal cast doubt whether he could convincingly play Batman afterwards. It is to Keaton´s credit that his next performance would be the very opposite of what Betelgeuse was.
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
This performance may be a little too recent to judge objectively (who knows what people in twenty years will think of it), but it´s certainly a very strong one. If ´Birdman´ restored Keaton´s gravitas as a serious contender, ´Spotlight´ displays how much depth he manages to bring to an ensemble performance. Mark Ruffalo may have been courtesied with an Oscar nomination, but Keaton has the meatier role.
The effusive Walter V.Robinson is given a spark of light in this drama, as his colleagues and society come to accept the comotosal situation they find themselves in, Robinson iterates “I wanna keep digging.”, before echoing one of the most powerful retorts in film history; “We got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.”
Keaton´s methodological approach is a testament to the ongoing work and pressure journalists face on a daily basis, knowledgeable enough as an actor to allow Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci take some of the showier and eloquent moments in the film.
But subtlety has its benefits, Keaton´s presence is strong enough to be felt, and he gives the film an anchor to centre one of the sparkier Academy Award winning films of recent times.
Batman (Tim Burton, 1989)
Fans constantly argue over who is better: Michael Keaton or Christian Bale (neither Val Kilmer nor George Clooney seemed to make much of an impact). Bale´s Bruce Wayne persona may be the more psychologically complete, but his Batman simply lacked the menace and staunchness that Keaton brought to the character; ultimately, the antics of the Caped Crusader is what places bums on seats, not the dealings of a Playboy millionaire (though to Bale´s credit, ´The Dark Knight´(2008) still remains the strongest Batman film to date).
While director Tim Burton foolishly under-used his star in his sub-par sequel, ´Batman´(1989) showed the veracity of its stars´ qualities. Staunch, almost silent, his outward appearance is a perfect foil to Jack Nicholson´s loquacious Joker. A killer smile attached to his suit, Keaton´s Batman seems subdued,stoic even.
The first actor to give Batman a different voice from his alter ego, Keaton´s Batman voice sticks to grit and depth, avoiding the hilarity Bale unintentionally provided to millions of computer geeks. Neither does he fail as the everyday playboy Bruce Wayne, foppish to the public, serene to Vick Vale (Kim Basinger), moribund only in his darkest moments.
A testament to Keaton`s performance as an actor comes when he places a red rose down the alley where his parents were killed is subtly and wordlessly displayed.
His silence gives the so called dark knight the credence to continue his actions, making for one of the more alarming incarnations of the caped crusader, paving the way for all four of his successors. Perhaps Ben Affleck will prove otherwise, but for now Keaton remains the most enthralling Batman.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014)
Has there ever been a comeback performance as strong as this? It´s hard to think of any comeback performance, save perhaps Marlon Brando´s turn in ´The Godfather´, that showed half the humility, placidity, versatility or egocentricity in one of their later performances, one that could easily define their entire career. Eddie Redmayne may have won the Oscar, but its hard not to side with Keaton on this; not only was his performance more original than Redmayne´s , it was also arguably the more cerebral.
Echoing insanity, profanity, inner solemnity and jealousy at a job only seconds away from disaster, Keaton plays the de rigeur thespian with a certain poise; whether he´s insane, sane or mundane is never entirely clear. Whatever props should be awarded to Alejandro González Iñárritu and his penchant for intricate camerawork, the film is ultimately Keaton´s.
Younger actors Edward Norton and Emma Stone may have glossier, showier performances, but Keaton´s subdued, stoney -eyed portrayal outshines either. Whether it´s too close to the bone, parodic or artistic brilliance is unsure; Keaton himself thought Iñarritu was openly mocking him on first reading, luckily for the film viewer he quickly recovered to show a performance most actors would never have the courage to deliver.
Keaton´s booming alter ego also waves an affectionate hand at the genre he helped propagate; his subdued ´squak´ another sign of his aged, ragged, forgotten by time. An incredibly courageous performance (chances are Val Kilmer would never dream of undergoing such a self -depreciating performance) , Riggan Thompson is Keaton at his best.
Source| Taste of Cinema