Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”)
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Biutiful”), Nicolás Giacobone (“Biutiful”), Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. (debut) & Armando Bo (“Biutiful”)
As an actor who has donned a mask and cape in a couple of “Batman” films, Michael Keaton knows all about the pitfalls of big franchises and having audiences expect a certain thing from a certain actor. It’s also no secret that as far as high-profile gigs, Keaton’s career has been relatively quiet over the past decade. Perhaps it’s the built-in winking irony of art imitating life that makes Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” so delightfully perfect. Or maybe he’s just that damn good.
After becoming synonymous with the superhero character Birdman that spawned an action movie franchise, actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is struggling to get people interested in his first foray into writing, directing and acting in a Broadway play. When an accident happens on stage injuring an actor, his producer suggests they bring aboard enigmatic actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). With just days until the play’s official opening, Riggan tries to handle Mike’s unique acting style, his daughter’s disdain for him and the pressures of the biggest night of his career all while trying to ignore the voice of Birdman inside his head telling him to go back to his blockbuster ways.
To call Keaton’s performance in “Birdman” a career resurgence is an understatement as this is a performance that would send even the most highly regarded actor into the stratosphere. Not only does Keaton get to flex his thespian muscles while performing pieces of the play inside the film (and playing them with different emotions at various times), but he nails Riggan’s off-kilter personality quirks, sinking his teeth into every scene while covering the emotional gamut and displaying impeccable comedic timing. Simply put, Keaton has thrown the Best Actor gauntlet for the upcoming Oscars. But it isn’t just Keaton that shines. Norton goes toe-to-toe in every scene they share, and his exaggerated and hilarious take on the uber serious method actor are among the films funniest moments.
A great thing about “Birdman” is that it exists in the Hollywood world that we live in. This allows for the commentary on film and superhero movie culture to hit a lot harder and have moments such as when a news story plays about Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man. When Keaton’s inner Birdman taunts him about how much better of an actor Riggan is than Downey, it makes a greater comedic impact as a result. The ideas of holding up a mirror to pop culture society go even further, poking fun at critics, the modern culture of celebrities and social media.
Beyond it’s talent on the screen and the fantastic screenplay, “Birdman” is a technical feat that is sure to catch the attention of the audiences senses. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu worked hard to create an entire cinematic atmosphere and the results are astonishing. The film features a score containing solo jazz drumming by Antonio Sanchez that allows the offbeat and kinetic parts of the film, and of Riggan’s personality to be heightened even further. Not to be outdone, Iñárritu employs acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to give the film the look of one continuous take. Though the film itself takes place over the span of a few days, Lubezki seamlessly connects his gorgeous swooping tracking shots creating a final product that might give him his second consecutive Academy Award.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about “Birdman” might be how funny it is. Norton is the highlight in this regard, though really, any time that Keaton and Norton share the screen together it is comedic and cinematic gold. Though the deeper and darker parts of Riggan and his inner Birdman might not be explored to their fullest potential, “Birdman” is still a complete blast, and a fantastic snapshot of a man who can’t get out of the shadow of a character bigger than himself. It’s whip-smart, humorous, well-acted, beautiful to look at and easily among the best films of 2014 thus far.