Matt Reeves’ sullen black takes The Batman felt like a gift to DC fans hoping for mayhem-inducing villains who could actually threaten Bruce Wayne’s stranglehold on Gotham’s criminal underworld. A superhero movie is only as good as its villain, after all, and Reeves gave us plenty of that – from Colin Farrel comically small to gangster John Turturro well-dressed mafia boss for by Paul Dano Deranged but brilliant Riddler. Yet the villain everyone seemed to be talking about in the credits was a guy who only commanded a few seconds of screen time, an uncredited and unnamed character until well after the film’s wide-scale release.
And why? Because it was played by Barry Keoghan.
Focusing is something Keoghan has honed on screen, despite a surprisingly short IMDb credits page. He does it easily, whether he’s playing an innocent, wide-eyed English guy hoping to help the cause on by Christophe Nolan war epic, Dunkirk, or as the aloof, jaw-dropping immortal in Marvel’s Eternals. But Keoghan’s most magnetic turns have been his darkest – violent thugs, Shakespearian scavengers, pasta-hungry teenagers bent on revenge and, yes, the Clown Prince of Crime in the film’s latest masterpiece. Reeves comic.
If you were to create a timeline of Keoghan’s villainous on-screen evolution, the starting point would probably be his small but controversial role in the Irish mobster series, love-hate. Fearless and blessed with unbridled energy in one of his first major roles, Keoghan’s Wayne quickly became infamous. (Murder of an innocent kitten on TV has consequences.) A baby-faced assassin who had no semblance of a moral compass, Wayne’s idea of a good time seemed to terrorize audiences by indulging in his the most sociopathic impulses. Keoghan only lasted one season, but it’s a testament to his acting prowess that his character earned the show its most number of complaints.
Maybe cat murder is something directorial Yorgos Lanthimos appreciated because it was his inspired Greek myth The Killing of a Sacred Deer it gave Keoghan the freedom to play out one of the most sinister revenge stories we’ve seen on screen. As Martin, Keoghan delivers the kind of dead-eyed, emotionless line readings one expects from a Lanthimos thriller, but the director’s signature narrative style only renders his character’s indifferent quest for revenge even scarier. Martin befriends Steven de Colin Farrell, a cardiovascular surgeon who is married to by Nicole Kidman Anne. It’s a sort of sterile domestic bliss, which Martin intrudes on in increasingly uncomfortable ways. Eventually, the reason for his persistence in pursuing Steven is revealed – a botched operation that ended in his own father’s untimely death was a direct result of Steven’s secret struggle with alcoholism. He seeks to even the scales so to speak, which is when Steven’s children, first his young son and then his teenage daughter, succumb to a mysterious illness that causes paralysis, loss of appetite, bleeding from the eyes and, ultimately, death. Steven can end his family’s suffering by choosing which child lives and which dies.
It’s a disturbing, dark-comic Sophie’s choice but it’s Keoghan’s almost childlike mannerisms and deadpan performances that upend you inside, instilling a suffocating sense of dread that doesn’t stop until the credits roll. He is apathetic to his fatal proposal, detached from the chaos he sows in the lives of these complete strangers. In the film’s most haunting scene, Keoghan sits across from Kidman’s Anna. She came begging for her children’s lives, literally kissing her feet in exchange for mercy. Martin has none, a fact that becomes painfully obvious as he stuffs cold spaghetti into his mouth, wearing only boxers. It’s obscene, the amount of pasta this kid eats as he dispassionately tells Anna that his family’s impending demise is more an act of cosmic balancing act than a personal vendetta.
“I don’t know if what’s happening is right,” he admits. “But it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.”
“Justice.” It’s this vague understanding of the word that drives Martin to destroy Steven’s entire existence, but it’s the teenager’s pragmatic approach to getting it that’s both horrifying and yet, oddly, likable. It’s almost as if Keoghan is challenging the audience to respond, “So what would you suggest? How does a fatherless child make sense of a needless death? How does he reckon with the truth that, for a privileged few, consequences rarely exist? How does he find his own reward in a world where his opponent ranks significantly higher in the social food chain? It’s an uncomfortable question, but again, Keoghan seems to have an affinity for making moviegoers uncomfortable. He does it again and again, playing a vicious criminal tempting his mate to cross the proverbial lines in Calm with the horses and an outstanding art thief in American animals.
In by David Lowery strange fantastic tale of an Arthurian legend, The green knightKeoghan only inhabits a few scenes, and yet his presence lingers with by Dev Patel knight condemned for much longer. Disguised as some sort of deranged Lost Boy, the Scavenger cleans Gawain’s bones, robbing him of his possessions, his dignity, and his quest with a sense of childlike glee that straddles the line between comedy and horror. He’s the last person you’d want to meet on a solo trek to fulfill your destiny, wreaking havoc on the film’s narrative momentum while reminding audiences of the era’s inherent savagery and the messy violence lurking behind. on every street corner.
Keoghan has become so good at playing the villain that while he’s not the villain of our stories, we expect him to be. This is what happened with his role in Marvel’s Eternals. As Druig, Keoghan was distant, tortured, and frustrated by his prescribed role as humanity’s immortal watchdog.
His reasons for avoiding responsibility and retreating to a life of solitude become clear (and eventually a fan sympathizes with) as the film progresses. But, if you were to judge the movie by its trailer alone, Keoghan is the one you would consider the antagonist. Is it because he wears a black jacket and sports the kind of cheeky, self-satisfied smile that provokes Richard Madden want to hit him on sight? Maybe, but we’d also like to think it’s because he got this tremendous on-screen reputation. And that’s something he trades with his portrayal of the Joker in Reeves. Batman browse.
Keoghan may not get the chance to fully flesh out his version of the character onscreen, but again, we don’t need that. The Joker was made to die for, and it’s unlikely anyone can top him Heath Ledger become the chaos-loving anarchist. All Keoghan really needed to do was give us some insight into the wickedness of the group of criminals. by Robert Pattinson costumed vigilante hood can be. A giggle, a nonsensical riddle, and the threat of an upcoming fight – that’s what Keoghan is asked, and he delivers in his trademark style. (Is that already a mark? It should be.) He’s menacing and vengeful and a bit broken, but he still wants to sow discord and pandemonium in others, so he encourages Dano’s Riddler to tap into that same darkness – before the screen goes black.
Keoghan is an actor who has been deliberate when it comes to his filmography. This is evident from his work on prestige dramas like HBO Chernobyl studies of independent figures such as Mammal and Light afterwards that he doesn’t want to be boxed in as so many other talents of his generation often are. Yet while we’d never want to contribute to labeling him an (on-screen) villain, we’d also like to celebrate the kind of intriguing and nefarious qualities he brings to some of his most iconic roles. There’s an unbridled energy and recklessness about him that fuels some of his most exciting turns as a villain in our stories – and yet he’s often able to mask those turns by convincing us to seek out outcasts, criminals and the comic book villains he plays…right before he pulls the rug out from under our feet.
In no time, Barry Keoghan has mastered the art of the slow-burn villain. The Batmans and Bruce Waynes of the world should be scared.
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