Rated: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: October 17, 2014 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Through absurdity and self-doubt, this new Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful, Babel) theatrically set drama takes a dark, determinedly poignant and wry look at pop culture and fame ("popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige"). The Mexican auteur should delight peers like Guillermo del Toro and
Alfonso Cuaron through a shrewd surrealistic turn that would have the late Robert Altman and clever Charlie Kaufman enjoy his audacious approach.
Birdman stars Michael Keaton (Need For Speed, Robocop), Amy Ryan, Andrea Risebrough, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Lindsay Duncan, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis and is a silly triumph in the pungent satirical vein; definitely a once-in-a-lifetime role for the middle-aged Keaton (remember films like Gung Ho and Night Shift) whose oddly levitating character is probably akin to what got the hard-working actor (mostly known for starring in the comic-book movie game well before it saturated the Hollywood market, though getting second billing to an iconic villain in the initial outing).
Whether this has what it takes to have legitimate commercial success is probably moot for those behind an art form that maximizes the talents in front and behind the camera, particularly lenser Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) whose seamless effort makes three days seem more like real-time for a mesmerized on-looker.
A backstage look into show-business is comedic and self-reflexive where Keaton's crestfallen, contemplative and gruff Riggan Thomson is presumably poised for a resuscitation from his erstwhile eponymous blockbuster studio superhero franchise. It's about realizing a Raymond Carver story on stage having total control over the project if it means his sanity is in question and/or having the attributes of his popular character.
A twitchy thespian instability is evident in an uncertain Riggan's demeanor prior to the play's debut as an alleged psychic ability might have a caused a cast injury allowing noted Method, very well-prepared performer Mike Shiner, a fine contemptuously coquettish Norton (who was Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk) to clash with the Hollywood guy often berating himself. It doesn't help that Mike isn't in favor of soft drinks onstage and maybe off-kilter in more ways than one given his forward approach to Riggan's rehabbing, semi-assistant daughter Sam (an earnest Emma Stone of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Magic in the Moonlight).
From Broadway's St.James Theater dressing room to a rooftop, a seemingly uninterrupted Birdman often glides with ebullience and verisimilitude. In a kind of putting in place a scene that lets co-scripter Inarritu and Lubezki work a certain remarkably portentous magical realism that still may have some questioning Keaton's tightly wound portrait or the diffident execution of the material. Nevertheless, this departure from the more solemn, intricate Amores Perros and intense 21 Grams bristles with exquisite originality and mania in a refusal to be typecast. It's a match made in filmmaking heaven as co-stars in Galifianakis as a producer/friend, Watts as an edgy lead actress, Riseborough as a possibly with child supporting actress, and Duncan as a ruthless Times pundit who effortlessly complement Keaton's struggling, arguably spurious character just learning to fly once again, like an eagle.