In a critique of the Hollywood fare served up as cinema today, Inarritu has staged a film that aims to set itself apart from the norm by challenging both convention and expectation. The critically acclaimed director of “Amores Perros” and “Babel” has made his first comedy in the form of “Birdman”, a dark comedy starring former Batman, Michael Keaton as an actor experiencing a severe existential crisis.
Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a washed up actor known for his stint as the costumed superhero ‘Birdman’, who is in the process of writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver novel. After one of his main actors suffers a major injury during a rehearsal, Thompson casts a notoriously difficult, but talented, stage actor, played by Edward Norton, who threatens to upstage him both on stage and off stage. In an effort to juggle his artistic responsibilities with his struggles to adjust to his former popularity, Thompson’s attempts prove that he is more than a has been famous for wearing a rubber suit.
Inarritu is known for his brooding and seemingly unrelenting dramas, so it comes as a surprise that this film is so darn funny. As complex and dramatic as the themes are here, it is the dark humor that truly manages to resonate with its audience. Inarritu and acclaimed cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, chose to shoot the movie in a way that makes it appear to be one continuous, uninterrupted take, making the pacing and actions of the characters all the more unique in tone and style. This shooting style forces the actors to be on their A-game and no one disappoints.
Edward Norton has not been this good since his work in the 90s with “Primal Fear”, “American History X”, and “Fight Club”. His character is cocky, brilliant, and a complete mess, and Norton has never been funnier and more affective. Other actors such as Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis are also giving career high performances, especially Stone who plays Thompson’s ex-drug addict daughter who both supports her father while also delivering monologues tearing him down. As good as this ensemble is, and it may be the best cast featured in a film since Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, in which Norton also appears, it is Keaton who steals the show.
Keaton is best known for working with Tim Burton as Batman and as the title character in “BeetleJuice”, but he has been in a bit of a career slump since then. It is easy to draw parallels between Keaton and his onscreen counterpart, but his performance outshines any of the baggage that may exist with it. There are moments when he must display five or six different emotions and the many subtle nuances during a complicated scene in the time span of forty seconds. “Birdman” is more than a comeback for Keaton; it just might be the best film of 2014. Inarritu has made a beautifully weird, wacky, and personal work that challenges artistic method, film criticism, and audience perception while always uplifting the pursuit of meaning and relevance in art and in life, which leaves much for viewers to think about long after the laughs die down.