Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
This mesmerising and intense one take wonder from the world-weary virtuoso Alejandro González Iñárritu comes to the big screen just as the 40th, 41st and 42nd adaptations from the Marvel comics universe are getting poised to drop in 2015. Since 1984’s disastrous Howard the Duck up until this years behemoth in waiting, The Avengers; Age of Ultron, many a superhero has risen and fallen, they’ve all known that great power comes with great responsibility and, ultimately, that everything that has a beginning, has an end. There may not be an actor alive who thinks about that final spandex clad cliché as much as Michael Keaton.
It was undoubtedly not Marvel but DC, Tim Burton‘s Batman and its sequel Batman Returns which brought back the modern superhero film; Garnering big stars, a brilliant villain and a huge budget in order to put Keaton in the bat suit. The actor turned down the third film (thank god) and in the last 25 years the brilliant comedic actor has certainly taken a few knocks but Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance isn’t just a comeback for Keaton, it’s a stunning movie; A movie which purposely flips the bird at some major blockbuster films and, considering comedy has never been something that Iñárritu has come close to touching, he wields his whirling, wandering script with giddy ease and maniacal smile; Making it possibly the directors best work too.
Keaton is Riggan Thompson, a failing actor who has sunken everything he has into a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver‘s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Birdman is a 2 hour-long panic attack spanning a week of rehearsals leading up to the opening night in New York’s St. James Theatre. Thompson’s recovering daughter (and Riggan’s assistant) Sam (a perfect Emma Stone) and method actor Mike (a scene stealing Edward Norton) are the main causes for Thompson’s hyperventilating; But, soon, the weight of his superhero mistakes, manifesting themselves as the now imaginary “Birdman” he played back in ’92, are beginning to take over.
Gravity cinematographer and all-round lens genius Emmanuel Lubezki and his camera glide around the theatre, following, focusing and enveloping the anxious catastrophe awaiting Thompson’s expected epic failure. The soundtrack, mostly solo jazz drumming by wunderkind Antonio Sanchez, jitters an pops along with Keaton and his nervous breakdown, ratcheting the comic unease of Birdman up into the rafters; The elements combine perfectly to make this into a delirious fever dream, half-waking, half crazy, determined to poke fun at everything pompous and narcissistic about theatre, film and social media.
It trips up in a couple of places with a few characters (Naomi Watts and Andrea Risebourough) just failing to get out of the shadow of Keaton, Stone and Norton. This isn’t down to their ability but to the sheer logistics of Iñárritu‘s films blocking. Zach Galifianakis as Thompson’s lawyer/producer is well and sparingly used and you’ll surely be hankering for more of Norton but it’s nearly impossible to take your mind off Keaton. His dialogue is knowingly, wondrously and hilariously crafted even during the many lengthy vitriolic monologues which seem to go off randomly like a box of dodgy fireworks; Non so brilliant as Thompson’s slaying of a film critic in the bar next door or perhaps Stone’s rant at her absent dad’s last gasp attempt to be a father. Birdman is a fast, audacious, hysterically funny and smartly made fairground ride of a film.