ICYMI: Game 6 (2005)
One of my favorite actors is Michael Keaton. Hard to believe but the same actor who established his comedic chops in early work like Night Shift and Mr. Mom has developed one of the most varied and sustained careers. The 80’s and 90’s saw Keaton enjoy success in hit comedies like Gung Ho and Beetlejuice, stretch his dramatic range in Clean and Sober and My Life, as well make a surprisingly effective choice as the first cinematic Batman in Tim Burton’s first entries in the series. Thankfully, he has experienced a recent resurgence thanks to his Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s Birdman and equally noteworthy supporting work in 2015’s Best Picture winner Spotlight. He has also returned to the world of successful comic book film adaptations with his intensely, villainous portrayal of Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Despite the storied career that I have described, you may have missed one of his best performances. To me, Michael Keaton succeeds because he is one of those performers who can show you how fast he can think. He is someone with a gift for gab and is constantly sizing up the angles. His best characters are equal parts intelligent and conflicted, with just a tinge of con man. He is equally adept at playing villains but he is inherently likable even when the audience can detect some of his character’s shortcomings.
In 2005’s Game 6, Keaton brings Nicky Rogan to life: a renowned NY-based playwright who is fretting over the opening night of his latest work on the same night that his baseball team (the Boston Red Sox) is poised to win the 1986 World Series. From director Michael Hoffman (Soapdish, Restoration) and screenwriter Dom DeDillo (himself a renowned playwright and novelist), comes this “day-in-life tale” with plenty of colorful characters but buoyed by Michael Keaton’s tour-de-force performance.
Over the course of the film we watch Nicky navigate his NY with a lot of cab rides and a lot of conversations where we meet:
Nicky’s daughter (Ari Graynor), herself a converted Sawx fan
A fellow playwright (Griffin Dunne), who works as an unofficial sounding board for Nicky
His main investor (Bebe Neuwith), who is also a part-time lover
The play’s aging lead actor (Harris Yulin), who’s having issues remembering his lines
His ailing father (Tom Aldredge), who thinks Nicky would have been happier as a Yankee fan
His estranged wife (Catherine O’Hara), whose only obstacle to getting a divorce is to get Nicky to stand still for one minute
But most importantly we meet Steven Schwimmer, an infamously reclusive and scathing theatre critic whose reviews are as legendary as they are fatal. The critic is played by none other than Robert Downey, Jr. in a delicious pre-Iron Man performance. Supposedly, Schwimmer is based on an actual critic that Dom DeDillo has crossed paths with who is so reviled he carries a gun and always attends shows in disguise. The film builds up to an eventual “showdown” between Rogan and Schwimmer but not in the way you’d probably think.
Game 6 is insightful about the world of theatre as well as baseball fandom. A lot has been said about what it means to be a Red Sox fan, especially in the pre-2004 drought times, but this movie finds a way to humanize it the form of Nicky Rogan. In a telling scene with his father he remarks, “Yeah, I coulda been happy. I coulda been a Yankees fan.” I also found the scene (the only scene) between Keaton and O’Hara to resonate with the truth and pain of a couple on the downslope of a marriage who may have only stayed married out of habit.
There are definitely a lot parallels between Game 6 and Keaton’s work in Birdman, as both revolve around the world of theatre with protagonists struggling to find meaning and happiness. But each film, in their own unique way, is a perfect representation of Michael Keaton’s gift as an artist. He draws you in with his charm, he keeps you entertained with his words and delivery, and ultimately makes you empathize with his effort to point of his own exhaustion. Michael Keaton is an all-time great in my book and Game 6 finds him at the top of his game.