Everyone loves a good comeback story and Birdman is the film that re-presents the talent that is Michael Keaton to the film loving public. Though he had been working pretty continuously it seems like since the disaster that was Jack Frost (1998) he has disappeared. Now the quirky Michael Keaton is back in a big way playing a character that is so closely intertwined with his own story it is easy to think of this as a Michael Keaton biography.
Hollywood made a star out of actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton – Batman, Toy Story 3) and now seems to have no further use for him. In other words, Riggan is another washed up actor. The fire to be famous and show that he has talent burns brightly in the man so he has come up with the idea to shed the Birdman costume (a superhero) for a turn in a serious play that he is acting in and directing on Broadway.
The production is an adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He, along with help of his best friend and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis – The Hangover, Due Date), puts his reputation, finances and sanity on the line trying to get this play on the stage. The whole thing turns out to be one challenge after another with having to recast the leading man role just before previews, hiring Broadway star Mike (Edward Norton – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fight Club) who turns out to be a pain in the ass, dealing with his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough – Oblivion, Made in Dagenham), who is also an actress in the play, telling him she is pregnant, and his fresh out of rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone – Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight) giving him headaches.
As if that isn’t enough, Riggan is disturbed by his Birdman character, who speaks to him at his most stressful times. Is it actually there? Is Riggan crazy? Could the magical actually be happening? Can this man fly? Question upon question pop up and delightfully few are answered.
In a film that is basically about acting and the life of actors you should not be surprised that the film’s success or failure hinges upon the acting. There are several stand-out performances. First is Edward Norton. The man, though reputedly difficult, is extremely talented. His performance as the overly assured, bullying and basically crazy Mike is bang on. Not a false or forced note to it. Emma Stone has again showed that she is not a one note performer able only to shine in comedic roles. The young lady keeps getting better and better in every role she undertakes. This one is unlike anything she has done before and demonstrates that edgy and sexy can also be added onto he already impressive CV. When Stone and Norton have scenes together they have great chemistry. Of course, the top prize goes to Michael Keaton.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams) was the perfect man to be at the helm of a film like this. What could have been an ordinary film is made extraordinary by the choices he made. Instead of a normal linear story he has amplified its effect by bringing a gritty realism to it through his long uninterrupted scenes that give it an almost stream of consciousness feel, a crackling energy through the jarring drum score by Antonio Sanchez and the tons of style (visual, etc.). All this leads to an incredible amount a tension on the part of the viewer. You always feel like something disastrous is just around the corner. The aura of conflict, feelings of self-doubt and sense of doom just loom over the entire thing. If he had gone any other way these feeling would not have developed. Instead while watching you are astonished and uneasy.