Best Riley Keough Performances from Mad Max: Fury Road to Zola

Ever since her debut as Marie Curie in the 2010 musical biopic The Runaways, Riley Keough has steadily made a name for herself as one of the go-to actors in the independent scene. With a selection of roles ranging from a free-spirited hippie selling magazines across the American Midwest to a terrified mother trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape, she has showcased an impressive level of versatility that has allowed her to appear in some of the most acclaimed films of her era. While there was a time when every mention of her name by her was accompanied by a reference to her by her grandfather Elvis Presley, Keough is now more than capable of standing on the foundations of her own success, and rightfully so. The task of narrowing down her most essential performances from her to just nine is no easy task. This list could easily have featured an entirely different set of performances, an achievement made all the more impressive given the relative newness of her career. The following represents a key selection of her crowning moments of her.

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Capable in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Keough’s most famous role comes in a film that is quite the outlier when compared to the rest of his filmography. George Miller‘s dystopian masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road sees her in the role of Capable, one of the many unfortunate wives of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) whose desperate bid to escape his citadel leads her to cross paths with the mysterious Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy). Despite the blockbuster nature of the film, Keough gives a performance that lays the groundwork for much of her later work de ella, eschewing dialogue for movement and body language in keeping with the visual storytelling the entire film emphasizes. The picturesque aesthetic of her character de ella makes for an effective contrast with the brutality of the surrounding world, and her relationship de ella with Nux (Nicholas Hoult) provides some much-needed hope in the hellish landscape they find themselves in.


Sarah in Lovesong (2016)

Aly quieter film than the previous entry, but also one where decided subtle gestures and floating glances continue to take precedent over lengthy dialogue exchanges, lovesong sees Keough taking on the most emotionally impactful role of her career. Sarah, a stay-at-home mom currently in a strained relationship with her husband, decides to take an impromptu road trip with her ella best friend Mindy (Jenna Malone), whom she has not spoken to for years. But it soon becomes clear that their relationship goes far deeper than friendship, even if they find themselves relucent to admit it. lovesong is a film built around the small moments, the things that would be entirely superfluous by themselves but combine to create a mosaic of unimaginable heartbreak. From the way Sarah stars vacantly at Mindy as she tries on a wedding dress, dreaming about a life that will never be, or in the moments where they gaze into the other’s eyes for just a fraction longer than they should, lovesong is a prime example of why less is more. Keough does an excellent job portraying the internal anguish of Sarah despite the veneer of normality she attempts to keep up, and the result is one of her greatest performances.


Christine Reade in The Girlfriend Experience (2016)

Keough’s breakout role came in the anthology television series The Girlfriend Experiencebased on the 2009 Steven Soderbergh film of the same name (who served as producer on the show). In the role of Christine Reade, a second-year law student who has just landed an internship at the firm Kirkland & Allen, Keough delves into the world of high-end prostitution as a means of supplementing her dwindling income from her. It’s a dark but captivating look into the controversial topic, avoiding pointless titillation for a mature examination that avoids telling the audience whether Reader’s decision is the right one or not. Given the subject matter it is safe to say that The Girlfriend Experience was a difficult role for Keough to play, but she approaches the character with the unashamed commitment she deserves and the result is her greatest performance. While future seasons ditched Reade to focus on other characters connected to the sex industry, season one remains the show’s standout moment, thanks in part to Keough’s tremendous work from her.


Krystal in American Honey (2016)

Andrea Arnold’s ode to the American Midwest sees Keough in a much different kind of role, this time playing free-spirited hippie Krystal as she entices teenage runaway Star (sasha lane) to join her traveling sales crew who make their living selling magazine subscriptions. While Star is very much the protagonist of American Honey, Krystal serves as a vital element in her transformation from wayward teen to mature adult, with a relationship built on hostility and stubbornness, but with just the right amount of mutual respect. Despite her usual coldness there is a much different side hidden behind her confederacy bikini, one who wants to give a purpose to those who have none of her, and Keough does a great job balancing both sides while being careful to keep her tough façade front and center.


Kim in It Comes at Night (2017)

It Comes at Nightthe sophomore directing effort from Trey Edward Shults, makes for a far more downbeat and uncomfortable viewing than other entries on this list. Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his family live in a seclusive home hidden deep in the woods amid a highly contagious disease that is sweeping the globe, but the reality of their simple living is shattered by the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott) and his own family who wish to take refuge there. While things start cooperative, it doesn’t take long before the tension starts rising. Keough plays Will’s wife, Kim, a character trying her best to make the world a better place but who continually finds herself in one unwinnable situation after another. When the film starts she’s already halfway to insanity, and watching the remaining scraps of her humanity de Ella trickle away makes for some heartrending viewing.

Mellie Logan in Logan Lucky (2017)

Keough’s meeting with Soderbergh was a very different beast than their previous collaboration, swapping the pristine aesthetic of modern America for the backcountry of the American South in a town that still looks like it’s living during the Nixon administration. In the role of Mellie Logan, Keough becomes an unlikely member of her her brother Jimmy Logan’s her (channing tatum) heist against the construction company that fired him. Logan Lucky is a delight from start to finish, with Soderbergh indulging in the same level of joyous fun that made his oceans trilogy such a treat, with Keough perfectly towing the line between drama and comedy. A tense but silly exchange between Mellie and safe-cracker Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) after she helps break him out of prison is one of the film’s many highlights, a scene made only the funnier by the hilariously over-the-top Southern accents the entire cast put on.


Sarah in Under the Silver Lake (2018)

David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to It Follows proved to be one of the most polarizing films of the 2010s. starring Andrew Garfield as an aimless 33-year-old living in eastern Los Angeles, Under the Silver Lake sees him descending into the bizarre world of conspiracy theories and the Hollywood elite as he searches for his missing neighbor Sarah, in what will surely become one of Keough’s defining roles. Despite appearing in only a handful of scenes, the dangerous but alluring charm of Sarah casts a seductive spell over the entire film that gives her a prominent presence from start to finish, with Keough’s performance managing to elevate the ‘girl-next-door’ trope into a far more developed and nuanced character. In one of the film’s greatest scenes, Keough unleashes her de ella inner Marilyn Monroe for a replica of her famous nude swimming scene in the movie Something’s Got to Give, only for the risqué nature of the scene to be completely turned on its head by a sudden last-minute twist. It’s a wonderfully surreal moment that encapsulates the odyssey into madness that is Under the Silver Lakewith Keough’s performance being the icing atop the nonsensical cake.


Grace Marshall in The Lodge (2019)

The Lodge is not only the film that confirmed Keough as one of her generation’s greatest scream queens, but also serves as one of the most overlooked horror films of recent years. Keough stars as Grace Marshall, the sole survivor of a mass suicide at an extremist Christian cult who, several years later, finds herself spending Christmas with her soon-to-be husband Richard Hall (Richard Armitage) and his two children in a rural cabin. The relationship between Grace and the children starts bad enough, but that quickly grows to unprecedented levels when they find themselves stranded in the cabin. It’s a chilling film from start to finish, opting for unsettling imagery rather than cheap scares, and the result is an experience that lingers in your nightmares long after the credits have rolled. Keough excels as a character who has experienced levels of trauma no person should ever have to contend with, and the continuing hardships that haunt her every waking moment despite her best efforts make her all the more tragic.

Stefani in Zola (2020)

The most recent film on this list also feels like a montage of all of Keough’s greatest roles: the examination of the sex industry from The Girlfriend Experiencethe critical look at Americana from American Honeythe unsung love from lovesongand the comedic tragedy of Logan Lucky. Based on a viral Twitter thread from 2015, Zola stars Taylor Paige as the titular Detroit based stripper who is enticed by her new friend Stefani (Keough) to travel with her to Florida where they can make serious money. But, as with all such proposals, nothing is as simple as it first appears. While Paige is the crux from which the whole story orbits, Keough is the film’s standout element in a role that she slides into with such ease it’s like she’s been building up to it her whole career. She’s a character so fixed on social media that she serves as the perfect gateway with which to explore the chaotic nature of the digital age, but her bubbly personality keeps her engaging even during the film’s darker moments. It’s a role that Keough is clearly having a lot of fun with, and serves as the perfect reminder about why she is one of modern cinemas consistently most great actors.



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