Always a stellar addition to any, cast Michael Keaton headlines Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and proves he’s not only relevant once again by delivering a truly career defining, awards-worthy, performance, but carrying Alejandro González Iñárritu’s (Biutiful) brilliant, original, and utterly unique comedy/drama to huge successes.
In a film which sees art imitating life (in a whole range of ways), Keaton stars as washed-up Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson; a man who’s famous for playing a caped superhero known as Birdman in a number of Hollywood blockbusters several decades earlier, has never been able to escape the role, and is now trying to prove he’s still worthy, still relevant, and still matters by launching a Broadway play which he’s written, directed, and is starring in.
Needless to say there are all sorts of problems with the play; from Riggan disliking certain actors, to hiring brilliant but pretentious actors who’re great on stage but horrible in real life (Edward Norton’s Mike), his fresh-out of rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man) being not only a little strange, and on the edge of relapsing, but despising her father and her job as his assistant, problems with the material, having no money to fund the play, potential reviews which could scupper the whole endeavour, and his own relationships with actors, and his ex-wife getting in the way.
Yet the entire enterprise, as with everything in Riggan’s life, revolves around the former Birdman’s ego; he’s a self-centred ego-maniac who’s not vindictive, malicious, or unlikeable in any way shape or form, he just think’s he’s it; he think’s he’s been short-changed somewhere along the road, and is craving the love, and recognition he once had. And the way in which his ego is realised in Birdman is brilliant; via strange little delusions where Riggan sees himself moving objects telepathically, levitating, and even flying or throwing things around the room, and an inner monologue (delivered in a Birdman voice) which keeps reaffirming his brilliance, and how far above these people he is.
Though it’s not solely the inner monologue, glimpses into Riggan’s delusional world, or the gripping performance of Michael Keaton which keeps Birdman interesting. Director Alejandro Iñárritu has filmed it in such a fantastically original way, where almost the entire film looks like one long, never-ending, tracking shot; a brilliant decision which not only localises the film in one place (the theatre, and surrounding street; mirroring Riggan’s focus) but keeps a surprisingly snappy pace (the entire film takes place over only a couple of days) and finds inventive and original ways to keep moving forward whilst it continues to keep pulling you further and further into Riggan’s world with every passing second.
The cast is also superb, as not only is Keaton stunningly brilliant; he’s been a fantastic actor for years (though sadly overlooked since his Batman days; a clear example of art imitating life, given the nature of his character), and delivers possibly the best performance of his career here, with a fantastic, unfaltering, range which proves he’s not just Batman, he’s not just the comedy support, but a full-on, Oscar-worthy actor who deserves to win multiple prestigious awards come awards season; but Norton is also fantastic; a pretentious show-stealing douchebag who again mirrors what many people believe him to be life in real life (also teasing whether or not he was fired from his last big superhero gig; The Hulk?); Emma Stone gets the chance to once again prove she’s a real actress; delivering a great performance as the damaged daughter of a former megastar; and each and every supporting star; from Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), to Naomi Watts (The Ring), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), and Amy Ryan (Escape Plan); are well placed, and directed to deliver strong and believable performances, as everyone here brings their A-game.
In fact, while the cast do an undeniably good job, and it’s great to see Keaton back at the forefront once again, Birdman is a testament to one man above all others; Alejandro González Iñárritu; the writer, director, and true driving force behind what can only be described as the freshest, most original, darkly funny, hugely inventive and utterly gripping film released in years.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a triumph on every level, a shoe-in for film of the year, and a true masterpiece which deserves the hype. Iñárritu has delivered something original, something dark, something funny, something witty, and something a little bit sad with one single film; it’s his crowning glory, his mona Lisa, and a film which deserves the recognition it’s been earning. It proves Michael Keaton is still relevant, deserves to clear up awards for acting, direction, and editing at least, and is simply outstanding on all fronts. In fact there simply aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe how good Birdman is. If ever there was a must-watch movie, this is it.