Today we celebrate the 70th birthday of everyone’s favourite Keaton (sorry Diane), Michael. Not only can the man light up a screen with charm alone, but he’s one of the most versatile actors around and more than happy to completely lose himself in a role.
The last 70 years have given too many highlights to mention, so here, selected by our writers, are 5 Michael Keaton performances we can’t stop thinking about. Now, “Let’s turn on the juice and see what shakes loose!”
Much like Bruce Wayne’s dual identity, Keaton’s restrained, understated double-bill as the Dark Knight sits as the benchmark of his career and the albatross around his neck. While he has voiced frustration at audiences’ inability to look beyond his caped cred, in recent years he has also come to recognise and even embrace the cultural significance of his efforts.
Where Bale and Affleck saw Batman as a broad canvas to fill with big moves and big emotion, Keaton brought a quiet deadliness, a sinister inhumanity and a detachment from normalcy (it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that that bit was inspired by the director, Tim Burton). What he lacks in height and physical intimidation, he makes up for in presence, in charisma, in sheer fucking majesty.
Keaton is the only actor I can think of who could’ve played Joker, as well as Batman. And Beetlejuice, made just one year prior to his debut as the caped crusader, is probably the closest we’ll ever get. As the titular prankster, Keaton lets his wild-side take over; he’s not chewing the scenery here as much as swallowing it whole, puking it back up and reheating it for supper.
Writing For The New Yorker, critic Pauline Kael compared the actor’s performance to “an exploding head” and wrote that “he isn’t onscreen nearly enough”. There’s no doubt that the character has become iconic over the years. I mean, who could forget (oh, how I tried) Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance from 2013 – Christ, was it that long ago? – in which the Blurred Lines singer’s black and white striped suit inspired a flurry of delightful Beetlejuice themed memes.
Still, while the legacy of the film has grown, with a long-gestating sequel supposedly in the works, the role has never overshadowed Keaton’s career, which keeps surprising us at every turn. Brian Quinn
The Other Guys (2010)
The early 2000s could be best described as a slump in the actor’s career. However, few could imagine that (on paper at least) this film would mark a modest comeback. His performance suddenly jolted the memories of moviegoers, as they witnessed one of the best scene-stealing performances in recent memory.
Keaton plays NYPD Captain Gene Mauch, the seemingly ‘straight man’ forced to put up with the antics of Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell. However, it is a terrific subversion of expectations when Captain Gene (as Ferrell’s character refers to him) is slowly revealed to be the one who provides the best laughs. His tic of constantly referring to TLC songs out of context is genius. Keaton’s natural charisma, coupled with his naturally funny delivery, makes for a remarkable performance that paved the way for Hollywood to welcome him back with open arms.
If Matthew McConaughey experienced his ‘McConaissance’ in the mid-2010s, then The Other Guys surely kicked off the ‘Keatonaisance’ that the world had been asking for. William Healy
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
If The Other Guys signalled to the world that Michael Keaton was ready, then Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2014 film heralded the second coming. His character, Riggan Thomson, is a former super-hero film star who suddenly decided that he needed to broaden his acting scope. Riggan struggles with insecurity and the weight of his previous action star status. He feels that “treading the boards” of Broadway will give him the attention he once had.
The actor embodies the hapless, tragic figure. A man haunted by the voice of his former super-hero alter ego. Just as the film’s line between reality and fantasy begin to blur, the real-life status of Keaton’s past superhero escapades are brought to the forefront of the viewer’s imagination. Riggan is plagued by the feeling of not being appreciated in his own right, yet he seems oblivious to the fact that the world around him communicates the opposite. His delusions of grandeur are completely fabricated by his own self-doubt, and Keaton carries this throughout a truly enigmatic performance . . . even whilst running through Times Square in a pair tighty-whities. William Healy
The Founder (2016)
The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, the businessman who took McDonald’s from a humble hamburger joint to the super-sized behemoth it is now. On its release in 2016, the film failed to light up the box office as anticipated; the mere notion of a cheesy McDonald’s origin story proved hard to swallow for most people. But take a look under the bun, and I’m sure you’ll find there’s a lot more ingredients than meet the eye.
The secret sauce – last burger pun, I swear – is undoubtedly Keaton. He plays the aforementioned Ray Kroc, whose name alone conjures visions of Dickensian crooks and charlatans. Yet, refusing to turn him into an evil caricature, the actor keeps the audience guessing. We begin rooting for him, but soon our allegiances are tested through a series of desperate ploys and shady moves.
The film feeds off Keaton’s mega-watt charisma to great effect. Only he could give this hamburger-hustler a beating heart – cold as it is, elevating what on the surface appears to be a two-hour long fast-food commercial to a scathing critique of capitalism. Brian Quinn