First things first: It is great to see Michael Keaton in a major role in a major film. I was looking over his filmography the other day and was surprised at how few films he has been in since the late 90’s. He kind of fell off the radar. Birdman is his 43rd feature film since his breakout role in Night Shift (1982) and it really is a great fit for the 63 year old actor who lets it all hang out (literally and figuratively) in a role that will no doubt garner some award nominations. But that’s not all…
With Birdman, director Alejandro G. Inarritu and D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki have created a wholly visceral experience; a black comedy that focuses on the messy life of a washed up actor. It also delves into the selfish, insecure, manic personality traits of actors in general as well as the theater macrocosm/politics. Though these are subjects that other filmmakers have taken on before, Inarritu and writers Nicolás Giacobone,
Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo find plenty of fresh and darkly funny perspective that never becomes overly corrosive or heavy. In fact, more often than not it feels unusually invigorating.
Riggin Thomas (Keaton) was as big a movie star as they come when he played Birdman on the big screen. But Riggin walked away from the glossy franchise and set his sights on adapting and acting in a Raymond Carver short story on the New York stage. Past his prime and finally facing his facile, mainstream career persona, he craves legitimate, critical approval and success. What follows is an acidic, aggressive tour de force of both acting and directing. Feeling like an adrenaline-fused version of Hitchock’s Rope, the camera glides and dashes around the tight corners of the theater and with careful editing and digital slight of hand the film feels fearlessly in-the-moment and continuous. I was never entirely sure of where it was going which is a rare treat these days. There are several moments of actors transitioning from an intense situation backstage to walking directly on stage in character that has an electrifying meta effect.
The film often veers into fantasy and I suspect that some may find this distracting or not entirely effective. I thought it worked. Either way, there are a lot of good things going on in Birdman not the least of which is a cast and crew diligently trying to trump your expectations and, for the most part, succeeding.