“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”- Edward Norton as Mike Shiner
Bottom line: “Birdman” is ambitious, and director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s impressive technical exhibition is only accentuated by Oscar-worthy performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.
“Birdman” is simply a lot of fun. It’s satisfying to see Michael Keaton perform so brilliantly in 2014 in itself, but Inarritu’s unique vision is more than worthy of the film’s hype — he’s able to create the impression that the entire film was shot during one take.
The ambitious nature of Inarritu’s technical showcase is paired with a captivating story about the human spirit that’s emotionally gratifying, erratic yet warm, and has a funny side that will sneak up on you.
“Birdman” is a black comedy that literally follows Riggan (Keaton), a washed-up actor who earned his fame from starring in a superhero franchise decades earlier, and documents the days leading up to the premier of his Broadway play. The once iconic movie star must battle with his lingering ego while he attempts to repair his broken relationships, career and inevitably himself.
Inarritu is close friends with “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron, and was able to partner with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who won a technical Oscar for “Gravity”). The end result is a sensational piece of cinematic magic. Flowing from narrow corridors to crowded New York streets, the camera’s lengthy tracking shots are captivating and an example of stylistically orchestrated filmmaking at its finest.
Watching closely, an attentive viewer may be able to locate several instances where there may have been a cut, but doing so will take away much of the enjoyment the imaginative shooting provides. Falling for the magic is the whole point of going to the movies.
Keaton’s involvement is obviously amusing. He’s an actor who “peaked” more than 20 years ago when he stared in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” much like Riggan. Keaton plays on this, toying with his real-life persona and the somewhat quiet career he’s had since going toe-to-toe with The Joker.
His performance is hyper-active and full of emotion, and at times made me question whether he’s acting — checking the ticket again to make sure I wasn’t watching a Keaton biopic. There is a sense of desperation in his character, visibly building up and weighing on Riggan’s psyche as the play’s premier quickly approaches.
Edward Norton also toys with his real-life reputation of being demanding and difficult on set. His character, Mike Shiner, is Riggan’s co-star and stepped in after an actor was injured during rehearsals. Norton’s performance is calm but electrifying, finding the right balance between pretension and candidness.
For those who enjoy an extravagantly hypnotic visual experience, “Birdman” is more than satisfactory. The compelling nature of the acting core, paired with the exhilarating movie magic makes “Birdman” one of the more intellectually satisfying movies of 2014.
Fun fact: Given the unusual style of filming long takes, Edward Norton and Michael Keaton kept a running tally of each actor’s mistakes. Emma Stone made the most mistakes, Zach Galifianakis made the fewest.
Run time: 119 min.
MPAA rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent