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Michael Keaton Retrospective

From humble beginnings as a television regular on the Mary Tyler Moore show, Michael Keaton seems like he has been around forever! And in the often short-lived Hollywood limelight arena, he has.

In a role first offered to luminaries Kurt Russell, Mickey Rourke and the late John Belushi, Director Ron Howard cast a young Keaton in the madcap 1982 comedy, Night Shift, instantly a star was born followed by the hugely successful, Mr Mom (1983).

In a career of ups, downs and cinematic disappearances, he has returned in subsequent years culminating in a Best Actor nomination for, Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Innocence (2014).

Now showing, his latest role concerns the remarkable true story, more complex than you could ever imagine, about the individual credited as founding the fast-food restaurant conglomerate McDonalds.

Keaton is Ray Kroc, the striving but entirely unsuccessful entrepreneur traveling salesman in 1950s USA. He creeps under your skin equally charming, ghastly, frustrating, relishing portraying Ray a smart, intrusive, fascinating character that you simply cannot help but judge from the outset and possibly finish up hating.

It is interesting that the global golden arches actually allow their brand to be looked at in this unsavoury way. There was a time when Maccas (as we know it down under) did not permit use of their products in any film, ever, after trying out funding their own 1980s retro flop Mac & Me. Swiftly rejected by film goers, it was basically one long advertisement with a dumbed down ET logic.

When quirky director Tim Burton chose the live-wire to play the now much loved paranormal character Beetlejuice (1988), his career trajectory skyrocketed when heading into the bat cave as the caped crusader opposite Hollywood royalty Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman (1989). The shock casting decision made Warner Bros executives nervous at a time when superhero films were not in abundance or of any kind of quality until huge box office receipts changed all that.

Hot property Keaton made the inevitable sequel Batman Returns (1992) but the levity allowed him to pursuit smaller serious roles such as a psychotic room renter in Pacific Heights (1990), surrogate detective father opposite Australia’s own Anthony LaPaglia in One Good Cop (1991), and attempting the Bard in Shakespeare’s Much ado About Nothing (1993).

The same year, sentimental tearjerker, My Life, with Nicole Kidman remains one of the most melancholy films I have ever seen, in a good way. After the magnificently jolting editor role in The Paper (1994), multiple parts in  cloning comedy Multiplicity (1996) and being handpicked by Quentin Tarantino for Jackie Brown (1997), a role he would reprise a year later in Out of Sight was to be his only significant success until over a decade later.

Abruptly deciding to hang up the Bruce Wayne persona allowing Val Kilmer to appear in Batman Forever, the now considered minor cult classic, odd Christmas themed non-family Christmas tale Jack Frost (1998), seemingly halted Keaton’s career.

Underrated horror White Noise (1995) aside, a string of straight to DVD features and an occasional cameo voice on The Simpsons and in Disney’s Cars were stretched highlights.

Suddenly 2010 became his big return year as Toy Story 3 character Ken Doll came to life voiced to smarmy perfection and out of the blue against all odds, Keaton regained all that Working Class Man (1986) & Dream Team (1989) comic timing to practically outshine the Will Ferrell / Mark Whalberg double-act in The Other Guys.

Ordinary roles in repugnant video game adaptation, Need for Speed, followed by ill fated Robocop remake allowed Keaton to at least be seen again, culminating in Birdman and as part of the ensemble in this year’s Best Picture Academy Award recipient – the controversial, Spotlight.

Another Oscar nomination seems inevitable, Keaton is incredible in The Founder. Some of the low, snake-like scheming Ray Kroc is capable of has to be seen to be believed. The way he annoyingly manipulates others to get what he wants, acting tour-de-force from the former Mr. Mom.

The Founder in cinemas everywhere.

Shane A. Bassett

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