Michael Keaton’s sabbatical as a movie star ended with his Oscar-nominated turn in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”
Since that 2014 hit, he’s been back on the A-list, most recently playing the baddie in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
He’s currently starring in “American Assassin,” playing the mentor to hot-headed anti-terror agent Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien). The film is based on a series of books from the late author Vince Flynn.
It’s signature Keaton territory, from the tough guy posing to the occasional wisecrack. But what are Keaton’s best screen performances to date?
“I’m Batman.” With that whispered line Keaton pummeled critics who thought he was the wrong choice to play the Dark Knight on the big screen. They had a good argument, though. Who would think the lean actor, best known for fluffy comedies, could channel Bruce Wayne (let alone his alter ego)?
Turns out director Tim Burton sensed what Keaton could bring to the part: a whiff of danger, a sense of the unpredictable. He returned for the first of three Bat sequels, proving the first time ’round wasn’t a fluke.
Let’s be honest. The 1988 comedy was never great. Nor has it aged well. Still, Keaton let it all hang out playing the creepy/funny/mysterious figure trying to scare some new home owners out of their abode. Few comic actors should indulge their full tool kit (think an unhinged Robin Williams). Keaton lets loose but nearly every character decision clicks.
“Clean and Sober”
Many great comic stars have a serious actor lurking within. Think Jim Carrey, for example, with “The Truman Show.” Keaton showed us he could dig deeper than anyone expected with this taut character study of an addict coming to grips with his crumbling life. The film wasn’t a hit, but it opened up new career possibilities for the Pittsburgh native.
It’s a shame this 2016 Oscar bait film got forgotten in the awards season shuffle. Keaton is outstanding as Ray Kroc, the man who turned a humble burger franchise into an international sensation. Keaton’s Kroc won’t give up on his vision, an admirable trait. Yet that passion curdles in the third act, revealing the darker side of capitalism.
A young Keaton played a gainfully employed man forced to do “women’s work” after losing his job in this 1983 comedy. The concept may be dated today, but Keaton gave the role a sympathetic energy that made it a smash. He could have been cold or over the top as “Mr. Mom.” Instead, he charmed us even while throwing a race to appease his wife’s unctuous boss (Martin Mull).