Keaton soars to new heights
Whatever the film “Birdman” is, an unsettling black comedy about showbiz self-indulgence a surrealistic satire about one man’s attempt at self-preservation or perhaps something even weirder, this much is for sure: Michael Keaton’s performance about a former superhero movie star trying to get back on top might be the greatest comeback by an actor in film history.
That’s right, “Birdman” is a caustic, unflinching look at a fallen celebrity who is trying to resuscitate his career and in real life provides for its lead actor exactly that. Be forewarned however that “Birdman” is both profane and poignant in its revelations about stardom and society and while the film offers moments of intense clarity, it is a provocative approach that doesn’t enrich the soul as much poke, punch and slap your senses like a figuratively steroidal Moe on Curly. You may find yourself wincing, laughing, moved, shocked and frustrated but, thankfully, never bored.
Much of “Birdman’s” relentless energy comes not only from its stellar cast that includes Zach Galifanakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough who all get to have their own individual powder keg scenes but from Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s decision to shoot the film as if in one long take. Minimal editing demands long tracking shots that follow the actors – whose first take must work or the whole scene must be re-filmed—wherever they go. This rarely used technique is particularly effective given the film’s only location – the St. James Theatre in New York City. (Though some backstage scenes were shot elsewhere).
Keaton is fictional actor Riggan Thomson who in a desperate attempt to resurrect his professional credibility is producing a stage drama of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” in which he also acts and directs. Inarritu and Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use continuous, uninterrupted shots to heighten the backstage drama following the actors down hallways, to the streets outside (to great effect in one uproarious scene) and cramped dressing rooms lending “Birdman” a spontaneously combustible and claustrophobic feeling of “Noises Off” meets “Magnolia.”
The combination of actor’s exorcising their inner demons, live performance anxieties (and eccentricities) and the tightrope financial pressures of a Broadway show may simply be too pretentious for the average movie fan but will speak to anyone familiar with such territory.
The script (by Inarritu and several others) often achieves moments of searing honesty while including some artsy touches that remind us we are witnessing a hyper reality; incredibly entertaining at times, no doubt, but confusing too (the symbolic ending demands post-film discussion).
But make no mistake, the centerpiece of “Birdman” is Keaton’s triumphant, fearless, and career defining performance which will likely earn him a Best Actor Oscar next year. And that is a very real likelihood for a gifted actor who has been flying too low for too long.
Rated “R” for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.