The Cape Es­cape

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Rated - Will Salmon

Michael Keaton gives a ca­reer- best turn as a for­mer Hol­ly­wood su­per­hero.

Re­lease Date: 4 May 2014 | 15 | Blu- ray/ DVD/ down­load Direc­tor: Ale­jan­dro G Iñár­ritu Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Ed­ward Nor­ton, An­drea Rise­bor­ough, Naomi Watts, Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis The hys­te­ria sur­round­ing the awards sea­son means that direc­tor Ale­jan­dro G Iñár­ritu’s lat­est is now best known for beat­ing Boy­hood to the Best Pic­ture stat­uette at the Os­cars. That’s kind of a shame, but it’s strik­ing enough to out­last such trivia. Di­vi­sive it may be, but what we have here is one of last year’s most in­trigu­ing and tech­ni­cally im­pres­sive films – as well as one of its fun­ni­est.

Michael Keaton stars as Rig­gan Thom­son, a washed- up Hol­ly­wood star best known for play­ing Bird­man – a su­per­hero clearly anal­o­gous to, well, who do you think? Tired of his flag­ging block­buster ca­reer, he em­barks on a quest for au­then­tic­ity by stag­ing a Broad­way adap­ta­tion of Ray­mond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. It’s a ter­ri­ble idea from the start, and he’s sur­rounded by ham ac­tors, al­co­holics ( Ed­ward Nor­ton, on danger­ous form) and a daugh­ter who ap­pears to hate him ( Emma Stone). As the pres­sure of a loom­ing open­ing night mounts he be­comes in­creas­ingly de­tached from re­al­ity. We see him lev­i­tate in his room, ar­gue with his Bird­man cos­tume ( who talks back, hi­lar­i­ously, in a Chris­tian Bale growl) and soar high above the streets of New York.

It’s all just fan­tasy – isn’t it? By the end of the film that’s less clear, which will annoy some. If you’re a fan of straight­for­ward nar­ra­tives Bird­man may leave you cold, though it’s not a dif­fi­cult movie at all. Ac­cu­sa­tions that it’s a lit­tle on the smug side are also not en­tirely un­founded – it’s arch and point­edly ar­ti­fi­cial in a way that would give Wes An­der­son pause, and there’s a bar­rage of winky in- jokes at the ex­pense of the in­dus­try and its cur­rent su­per- ob­ses­sion.

There’s no more ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of this than Keaton him­self. Bird­man would have worked fine with an­other ac­tor in the lead, but the fact that it stars the ’ 80s/’ 90s Bat­man ( who also walked away from a se­ries of se­quels) height­ens things con­sid­er­ably. It’s more than just a head­line- grab­bing gag: Keaton is mes­meris­ing and nu­anced, the manic in­ten­sity that he does so well tem­pered by Rig­gan’s pain and con­fu­sion. Rig­gan’s funny – an en­ti­tled, ar­ro­gant, de­luded “Hol­ly­wood clown” – but he’s also com­pletely sym­pa­thetic. His mo­ti­va­tions may be self- cen­tred, but he re­ally is putting ev­ery­thing he’s got into his ridicu­lous play.

Keaton’s sur­rounded by a ster­ling cast. Nor­ton’s Mike Shiner brings ticket sales and headaches as an un­hinged Se­ri­ous Theatre Ac­tor – though Nor­ton’s own past as the Hulk is ac­knowl­edged in one of the film’s more sub­tly amus­ing jabs. Yet an­other su­per­hero- es­capee comes in the form of Emma Stone, who is ter­rific as Sam, Rig­gan’s trou­bled daugh­ter. She’s acidic and funny and re­lat­able in pre­cisely the way that the rest of cast aren’t. In one scene she rips into her dad for his years of self­ish bull­shit but, with a sin­gle dis­in­te­grat­ing sneer, re­veals a world of pain and re­gret. An­drea Rise­bor­ough, Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis and Naomi Watts are given less showy ma­te­rial, but are all ex­cel­lent.

But the real stars here are Iñár­ritu and cine­matog­ra­pher Em­manuel Lubezki. The film takes place across sev­eral days, but is ren­dered in one seam­less cut. It’s a trick, of course – there are plenty of edit points, skil­fully dis­guised, but it gives the film a dizzy­ing, dream- like feel that matches its mo­ments of magic re­al­ism. It’s an ab­so­lutely gor­geous look­ing piece of work. In­di­vid­ual set­pieces, mean­while, are ex­pertly re­alised: a scene where Rig­gan accidentally streaks through Times Square is like a nu­dity night­mare brought to dis­ori­en­tat­ing and hor­ri­bly funny life.

Some have in­ter­preted the film’s at­ti­tude to Hol­ly­wood’s se­queli­tis as an attack on su­per­hero cinema in gen­eral, but it’s not quite as

There’s a bar­rage of winky in- jokes at the ex­pense of the in­dus­try and its su­per- ob­ses­sion

straight­for­ward as that. There are some snappy barbs ( when told that Jeremy Ren­ner isn’t avail­able to ap­pear in the play be­cause he’s, y’know, an Avenger, Rig­gan de­spair­ingly spits, “Fuck, they put him in a cape, too?!”) but the world of the theatre that Rig­gan’s so des­per­ate to be a part of is just as com­pro­mised. When Lind­say Dun­can’s poi­sonous critic sets out to de­stroy the play with­out hav­ing seen it, she just seems like a pompous and mean- spir­ited car­i­ca­ture. Show­busi­ness, the film seems to say, cul­ti­vates mon­sters and ma­ni­acs.

Bird­man is film that de­fies sim­ple “this is what it’s all about” anal­y­sis, while of­fer­ing plenty of mo­ments to muse on over mul­ti­ple view­ings. Sure, it’s a cri­tique of vapid spec­ta­cle, but it’s also a mov­ing por­trait of a shitty dad com­ing to terms with his fail­ings. It echoes Scors­ese’s finest works ( King Of

Com­edy and Taxi Driver, obvs) while be­ing com­pletely its own film. It goes with­out say­ing that it’s Keaton’s finest screen per­for­mance to date, but above all, it’s bril­liantly, blis­ter­ingly funny.

Ex­tras: There’s a small, but de­cent, nest of ex­tras here. “Bird­man: All Ac­cess” is a half- hour Mak­ing Of doc­u­men­tary that goes be­hind the scenes of the com­plex film­ing process with Iñár­ritu. It was by all ac­counts an in­cred­i­bly tricky movie to make, with the ac­tors re­quired to learn many pages of dia­logue for each ( long) scene. Fea­turette “A Con­ver­sa­tion With Michael Keaton And Ale­jan­dro G Iñár­ritu” finds the direc­tor and his star dis­cussing their in­ten­tions for the film. There’s also a gallery of cine­matog­ra­pher Em­manuel Lubezki’s on- set photography.

Iñár­ritu orig­i­nally wanted a cameo from Johnny Depp as an­other ac­tor hounded by his film al­ter ego – in his case Jack Spar­row.

Ninth rule of Fight Club: it’s more fun in your pants.

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