Michael Keaton is the real deal. For decades he’s proven it: Whether In a full tilt farce like Johnny Dangerously (1984), an odd ball dramedy like The Paper (1994), taking on the flat-out dramatic in Clean And Sober (1988)- Hell, even One Good Cop (1991) comes to mind. Throw the guy the right material and he flat out shines. And such it is with art film director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s [Amores Perros (2000), Babel (2006), Biutiful (2010)] latest film, whose full mind boggling title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), where Keaton plays a nearly washed up actor named Riggan Thomson who’s desperate to show the world he isn’t just a tent pole superhero thesp, but a serious, important artist. This movie plays like an X-Ray of cinema itself, peeling the layers away until you’re sick to your stomach, exposing us to the madness underneath it all. Inarritu uses a ‘single take’ technique (a clever budgetary cheat) to force us to witness it all without release, as Keaton becomes increasingly unhinged and scenes descend to mania. The film opens on him in his underwear floating off of the ground Swami-like a’la Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen (2009), and it only gets crazier from there. It’s a joy to behold. Obviously Keaton is a bit of stunt casting, reminding us of those glorious Donner and Burton days, when the bedrock for cinematic superdom was first being laid and Marvel Phase 3 was just a twinkle in a fanboy’s eye. But his presence turns Birdman into a remarkably personal journey, adding layers of meaning to the whole affair. His creepy “inside voice” drives the narrative, forcing Batman, er, Birdman towards more dizzying heights of self-reflexivity. And the rest of the cast is to be commended as well, especially Edward Norton, a notoriously difficult actor to work with who taps into that meta-text here as well. If there’s one grievance with the film it’s that the material gets thin where Emma Stone and Naomi Watts (who worked with Alejandro on 21 Grams) are concerned, giving the impression these characters were afterthoughts. Tiny nitpicks really, because Birdman delivers the goods in hallucinatory doses, its surreal imagery of a New York as seen from a deteriorating mind accompanied by a jazzy drum score courtesy of Antonio Sanchez. Venture down this dark tunnel with Birdman, and you’ll find that by the time you reach the other side, Keaton’ll be your dark knight yet again.
November 3, 2014 No Comments