Birdman: Movie Review
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Alexandro G Inarritu
There's no ducking the metaphor - and the meta - in Birdman.
Michael Keaton soars as Riggan Thomson, a former cinema superhero known as Birdman, who left the role and is trying to reinvent himself in a new Broadway play that he's adapted from Raymond Chandler.
But Thomson's creative gambit and vanity is threatened by those around him and more specifically by the doubts that eat away at him and manifest themselves as the voice of Birdman, gnawing at his self-confidence and fuelling the seeds of uncertainty.
Echoes of a past life haunt Michael Keaton and it can't be a coincidence that Batman allegories and allusions circle your mind as this thrilling piece that defies expectation and categorisation plays out.
Keaton delivers a career reinventing turn and shows that after the glutty excesses of the likes of Need For Speed and Total Recall, there's still some fire in that acting belly.
As he burns through the screen, Keaton's Thomson is a seething mass of uncertainty, awash in a world of self neuroses and in a world that blurs reality (Thomson appears to be able to channel his alter-ego's telekinetic super powers - although only it would appear for destructive intent and it's never witnessed by anyone else).
But there's something iconic about this role from an Icarus-like Keaton - from the moment he stalks through Times Square in just his tighty-whities to his searing confrontation with Lindsay Duncan's theatre critic in a bar (a scene that feels slightly false given the critic's vitriol but is made all the more plausible by Keaton's acting), Keaton owns the stage and finally delivers something close to a masterclass in acting that should see him garner some critical plaudits. (A deliciously ironic meta twist that's part of the perverse joy of Birdman). Switching emotions from scene to scene, Keaton channels everything he needs for Thomson meaning you simply can't take your eyes off him.
While the likes of Edward Norton as a temperamental method actor and Naomi Watts as an insecure actress on the brink of acceptance with Thomson's play soar in the early part of the film, they start to unfortunately take a back seat in the latter part of the movie. They fade away purely due to the power of Keaton's turn - although Emma Stone really delivers as the defeated and ignored daughter turned Thomson's assistant. Equally, a lighter Galifianakis as the show's producer and Thomson's agent, is a welcome mix to the ensemble.
Babel and 21 Grams director Inarritu also deserves plaudits for his direction. The whole movie feels like a camera is simply following Thomson from beginning to the end (which is likely to provoke much debate) and making the film feel more like a play than you'd initially expect as long takes and long shots prove to be the raison d'etre in this movie that seems to be commenting on Broadway, critics and actors alike. (The only scene to hit an unrealistic note sees Thomson confront Lindsay Duncan's theatre critic in a bar and let both barrels loose)
Thrilling and completely fresh, Birdman is a soar-away success; Keaton's portrayal of a man simultaneously unravelling and also rising up is nothing short of incredible.
Birdman is 2015's first true cinema experience; a film that commands your attention from the get-go it'll have you sitting bolt upright in the cinema and debating its artistic merits long after the lights have gone back up.