Bold film takes flight and nails it
It’s not often a film exceeds all expectations as well as Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) does.
Writer- director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ambitious, fantastical black comedy is about 9 million times better than you’ve heard.
In fact, it’s entirely possible you won’t see a better mainstream film this year.
And that’s despite it being only January, and the sound skewering the film gives critics and art criticism.
The criticism in question is aimed at washed-up movie star Riggan Thompson ( Michael Keaton), who we meet in the midst of a bizarre midlife crisis.
Possibly suffering from hallucinations, but desperate to prove himself and reconnect with his estranged family, Riggan is producing a Broadway play in the hope of reclaiming some of his former glory and a little credibility.
However, plagued by the ghosts of his creative past – specifically the sneering voice of a superhero called Birdman he once played to huge box-office acclaim way back in the 1990s – and his personal demons/ego, it’s no easy task.
When the play’s incompetent leading man is knocked out cold by what appears to be Riggan’s burgeoning super powers, he’s forced to replace him with superstar of the stage, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton).
Shiner’s more-than-healthy ego is a combative match for Riggan’s and the two set about alternately bolstering and skewering each other on the rocky road opening night.
Circling the pair are Riggan’s troubled, brilliant daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) and a jaunty cast of others who have their own reasons for wanting the play to fly or fall.
Birdman is a brave, funny, satire that neatly nails pretension, art and celebrity without sacrificing any of its humanity.
That’s down to a raft of exquisite performances, the likes of which Woody Allen can only dream of, and the technical skills of a director at the height of his powers.
Birdman really takes flight when Keaton uses his real life super powers: the ability to leap from absurdist humour to subtly moving pathos in a single line, and absolute fearlessness.
Birdman was clearly made specifically for Keaton.
I can’t think of many 60-yearold actors who would let themselves be as vulnerable as he is frequently in Birdman though, with only a pair of Jockey’s between him and our scorn.
If Inarritu perhaps belabours the point in a meandering second half, that’s the only criticism I can give a film as bold and bonkers as this.
Bottom line: flock to it.
Mind games: Michael Keaton plays a washed up actor Riggan Thompson, plagued by his past but desperate to regain his former glory, in Birdman.