Friday, November 7, 2014


Michael Keaton walked away from the first modern (ie: Tim Burton) Batman franchise after two films. So he's inspired casting for this black comedy about a movie actor named Riggan Thomson, once famed for playing an onscreen superhero called Birdman.

Now, years later, he's trying to reinvent his career and himself—and hopefully rediscover his self-respect along the way—by mounting a Broadway drama. It's a problematic project he's directing from his own adaptation from the downbeat works of Raymond Carver.

This set-up provides the chance for filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu (best known for serious fare like Babel and Biutiful) to deliver his dark, but often scathingly funny observations on pop culture, celebrity, and priorities—in particular, the ongoing battle between art considered serious and substantial, and the philistine popularity of the movies.

"Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige," says Mike (Edward Norton), an actor hired at the last minute who might save the show with his brilliance or destroy it with his loose-cannon unpredictability.

Iñárritu brings plenty of nifty style to the table. The film unspools in a series of long, intricately connected (but not nausea-inducing) tracking shots as it follows various characters around through warrens of backstage passages, in and out of dressing rooms, on and offstage, over catwalks, and down Broadway itself.

The soundtrack is mostly edgy percussion, and the hyper-reality of the close way the camera follows characters around in their personal dramas is balanced by a touch of magic realism as Riggan tries to suppress the cynical alter ego—in full Birdman regalia—who follows him everywhere, urging him to forget about acting and become a movie star again.

A few too many false endings dull the story's impact, and the lines between metaphor and narrative get a little blurry (as Riggan may or may not occasionally fly over the Great White Way). But Iñárritu makes cogent points about media and fame and our quest to be "important." He also elicits fine performances, especially from Norton, Emma Stone, as Riggan's recovering druggie daughter, Amy Ryan, as his ex, and Keaton himself.

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