In Birdman, Michael Keaton stars as Riggan, a washed-up actor whose superstar days of being a cinematic superhero are long gone. He is trying to get his mojo back by mounting a Broadway play that finds him risking everything.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece follows the days prior to the production’s opening and the interweaving circus-worthy cast of characters who simultaneously help and potentially get in the way of his chances for a return to greatness. But the greatest minefield to Riggan’s rebirth lies within his own brain. His grip on reality appears to be slipping. Can he cling to it long enough to triumphantly return to the spotlight?
Iñárritu also co-wrote the screenplay and Birdman is his moment. When they say that film is a director’s medium, all the proof needed to reinforce that belief can be seen on every frame of his film. The way he utilizes long takes and merges reality and fantasy in a seamless web of emotional and dramatic power is to be tributed to no end.
We have always been huge appreciators of Keaton’s work, even in his early comic days with Night Shift and Mr. Mom. But when we saw him in Clean and Sober, there was something there that teased a brilliant actor working in the body of a man best known for being someone who lives to make us laugh. Then, Keaton became Tim Burton’s Batman (watch Batman online and see him at work!).
Birdman is not quite like art imitating life in that Keaton never became washed up. He has worked steadily since hanging up his cape. But, there is a meta-ness to Birdman that only enhances its power, honestly. And Keaton knows it. There’s a “voice” to his Birdman character that certainly recalls a certain Dark Knight.
But that is where life and this masterpiece’s connection ends. Keaton soars above it all and turns in the performance of a lifetime -- just watch these Birdman clips for a tease. Is it Oscar worthy? You bet, but the award season is still early and to talk awards with this film would be to belittle its greatness.
It transcends those types of accolades as it rivets, challenges your senses and emotions, and yes, even your reality. Keaton is a hurricane and we want to return to it as often as possible.
Everything else about Birdman beyond its screenplay, direction and lead are astonishing.
We have to start with Edward Norton. During one of the final rehearsals, an accident knocks out (literally) one of the four stars of Riggan's play. Norton's superstar Broadway actor is available and miraculously is able to step in. He too is a force of nature, but is content to let this be the Keaton show. But boy, does he give him a run for his money and challenges him around every turn.
Emma Stone is Riggan’s daughter and isn’t she a complicated mess of magnificence. Growing up under a father known by the entire world has clearly left its scars and Stone delivers her take on the child of a superstar with a darkly humorous resonance that provides this tense drama some much-needed chuckles. And she also delivers a masterful monologue that puts our lead in his place at a moment when the film (and Riggan) sorely needed it most.
Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough make up the final two pieces in our thespian quartet trying to mount this play that Riggan wrote, directed and stars in. Each adds layers to Birdman in a way that makes it even more special.
See, that’s just it. Our Birdman review, above all else, believes that every player in Iñárritu’s film has a role to play and plays it pitch perfectly. And that is why this film will haunt you, move you and frankly, become a part of you.