Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu
Starring-Michael Keaton, Edward Norton
Scott’s Review #190
Reviewed November 6, 2014
Birdman is a very unique art film, which happily, has garnered major exposure and publicity, because a movie like this runs the risk of receiving praise and notice only from the art house crowd itself. The film’s star-Michael Keaton, portrays Riggan Thomson, a former action hero superstar from the 1990’s, who was made famous for the “Birdman” character he created. Having made sequels to the film, his career has since dried up and he hopes to establish credibility and prove himself a real actor by writing, directing, and starring in his own play.
The film is set in and around the Broadway theater in New York City. As opening night approaches, he struggles to pull everything together and emit a successful production while faced with an injured terrible actor, a difficult actor, his own insecurities, and a miserable theatre critic destined to ruin his big chance. To make matters worse, his daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone is a recovering drug addict who hangs around the theatre distracting actors with her charm and good looks. Naomi Watts and Edward Norton play Leslie and Mike, other cast members in the production. Watts is sympathetic as the emotional actress with the heart of gold who finally has her dream of performing on Broadway realized. Norton, outstanding as Mike, is blunt yet socially awkward and can only perform truthfully on the stage. Keaton is simply a marvel as he plays a dark and vulnerable man hating and wishing to shed his ridiculous movie persona of yesteryear and secretly cringes when recognized by fans. He communicates with a voice inside his head, the voice he used when he played “Birdman” years earlier.
The uniqueness of the film is the use of what seems like one long take as the action rarely stops and seems to be ongoing. In my opinion, the film belongs to Keaton- he wonderfully relays vulnerability, pain, and fear within with an outward persona of bravery and masculinity. Throughout the film I wondered, is Riggan suicidal? What is real and what is imagined? Are certain scenes foreshadowing for later events? The film has much depth. One marvels at how art imitates life- Is Keaton really portraying himself? Keep in mind that Keaton was the original Batman in the successful superhero franchise beginning in 1989 and his career tanked shortly thereafter. Birdman is a comeback film for him and he is devastatingly good. Norton’s character Mike impressed me- blunt and honest he is also flawed and scared and in some ways addicted to the stage. Stone has one particularly brilliant scene as she lambasts her father and with regret later on, tells him that the world has moved on without him and that he is irrelevant just like everyone else- it is a powerful scene. In another, Riggan is locked outside of the theater during the performance, clad only in his underwear- how on earth will he return to the stage and complete the show? The quick slights at current Hollywood superstars playing superheroes, specifically Robert Downey Jr. are deliciously naughty.
A dark comedy for sure, it is impossible to predict what will come next and the film is very New York theater style. Keaton’s run in with a theater critic in a cocktail bar is the best scene in the film as the critic’s vicious critique of “You’re a celebrity, not an actor” resonates both pain and tremendous anger for Riggan. Riggan is a sensitive, struggling man and Keaton so wonderfully shows his vulnerability in every scene. Bravo!