Throughout this week of Keaton, the Michael variety not Alex P, it’s been made clear that his manic energy is part of his appeal as an actor. In Ron Howard’s The Paper (now the 3rd Howard film in row to be covered on Film’s Ok), he is arguably at his most restrained. Keaton plays Henry Hackett, an editor for an also ran rag called the NY Sun. His wife, played by the stunning Marisa Tomei, is about to have their first child. Henry also has a promising interview with the world renowned NY Sentinel. The Paper takes place during the course of one full day in the life of Henry Hackett as he tries to balance life changing decisions, professional ethics, battling for exclusive stories, a fist fight with Glenn Close & a pistol wielding Randy Quaid.
Ron Howard started hitting his stride as a director in the 1990s, and while I feel his best work is Cinderella Man and A Beautiful Mind, he had a great stretch in the mid 90s which included Backdraft, The Paper, Far And Away & Apollo 13. He really assembled an all star cast for The Paper with Michael Keaton in the lead. This was the third time he’d worked with Keaton (Night Shift & Gung Ho, freshly covered by John Butler are the others), and he gets a great leading performance from him. The supporting cast includes Academy Award caliber actors Robert Duvall (as Keaton’s Editor In Chief), Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, Jason Robards & Catherine O’Hara (who I don’t believe has ever had a role that I didn’t like). Rounding out the cast is Randy Quaid as the paper’s loose cannon reporter, Jason Alexander as Quaid’s unfortunate target in a series of unflattering articles & of course what Ron Howard film would be complete without brother Clint Howard. On top of this we get a lively, lightning quick script from A-List Hollywood scribe David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man).
Keaton’s hard working everyman performance in this carries the film through some weak points. His idiosyncratic ticks, including stress related ear scratching and obsessively looking for change for the Coke machine, become more pronounced as the film goes on. As the paper’s deadline gets closer and closer, Keaton’s energy level grows taking the audience with him. This is most memorable during a phone conversation in which Keaton blows his stack to an opposing paper’s editor, dropping at least half a dozen F-bombs. It’s performances like these that people really don’t remember Keaton for. He’s quite an amazing actor, but his career really started going into decline shortly after this. I seriously doubt many young people know who he is. Most of his recent work has been voice work for Pixar films in supporting roles. I’d love to see him in a lead role like this again, though sadly I don’t think that will happen. The sun is most likely setting on his career. The wonderful thing about movies, however, is that great actors give us the performances that stay with us long after the film has been released. The Paper is a signature role for Michael Keaton, its just happens to be a cruelly underrated one.