The mighty Michael Keaton was born Michael John Douglas on born September 5, 1951. The performer had to change his surname to Keaton because there were two other actors registered at the Screen Actors Guild with that name. Throughout his career Michael Keaton has been able to walk the fine line between comedy and drama, showing a versatility that few stars can acquire.
Keaton is probably best known for starring in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns but his career is littered with many great performances from Beetlejuice, Jackie Brown, Spotlight, Multiplicity, The Founder, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). However, even if a movie isn’t that good – Keaton always delivers on an acting level (see Jack Frost and Herbie: Fully Loaded).
Here’s a rundown of Movies In Focus‘ favourite Michael Keaton performances…
Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)
Keaton’s Batman/Bruce Wayne persona came under a lot of fire even before a trailer was cut. Fans bombarded Warner Bros with letters of protest in the belief that the actor (who was best known for his comic performances) would deliver a character who was similar to Adam West’s crime fighter. Keaton excelled as Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation – and it’s a role he will return to in 2022’s The Flash.
Clean And Sober (1988)
Many saw Michael Keaton as a comedy actor when he took on the role of an addict in Glenn Caron Gordon’s Clean And Sober. It’s a riveting performance and one which first fully showed Keaton’s dramatic range. It wasn’t a huge hit – but it’s worth seeking out – if you can find it.
Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice was Keaton’s break-out role and it’s hard to believe his scene-stealing turn as ‘the ghost with the most’ has very little screen-time. It’s a showy role for sure, and one which shows the might of Keaton’s comic prowess. ‘Nice Fuckin’ Model! It’s a true gem of a movie, loaded with great moments and a wonderful score from Danny Elfman.
My Life (1993)
Michael Keaton is superb in this heartbreaking drama about a man dying from cancer, documenting his final days for his unborn son on video. Keaton’s work here is outstanding and he balances humour with pathos, crafting a turn that really should have seen more critical acclaim.
Harold Ramis’ high-concept Multiplicity might be a comedy, but Michael Keaton is superb as Doug Kinney, the family man who is so busy in life that gets cloned three times. Keaton brings nuance to each version of the character, playing up the subtle differences to deliver one of the greatest comedy performances of all time. Often overshadowed by Ramis’ own Groundhog Day, this needs to be seen.
Birdman is a career defining performance for Keaton. He exposes himself on an emotional and physical level, giving everything to the character. The unflinching camera work shows every wrinkle, crease and crevice on Keaton’s face. Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera captures the reality, not the glamour of being an actor. This is the culmination of Michael Keaton’s life and career on screen and it’s difficult to imagine who else could portray the fear, the anger, the sadness and insanity of the role.
Pacific Heights (1990)
John Schlesinger’s Pacific Heights is a wonderfully composed psychological thriller from 1990. The lynchpin in Pacific Heights is Michael Keaton’s villainous turn as the mysterious Carter Hayes. He’s great as the twisted tenant and you can see him embracing the darkness of the character. It’s a role which is the perfect antidote to the super-heroics he played in Batman, which was released the previous year.