Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Fox Searchlight, in cinemas now
Michael Keaton is compelling in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, a scathing satire on the film industry, Broadway and the fragility of actors.
Keaton playing a washed-up actor who hit his peak in the early 90s playing a Lycra-clad superhero (Birdman) and now wants to gain credibility by mounting a Broadway play that he adapts, directs and stars in? That sounds a bit meta and post-modern. And Birdman is hardly a cleverly-disguised version of Batman (even down to the fake movie poster in his dressing room), so why is this movie gaining so much adoration? Probably because it is the antithesis of the films and plays that are discussed within it. It has soul, a compelling story, human drama and a plot that refuses to let you second-guess what will happen next.
Keaton doesn’t play himself (he’s Riggan Thomson) and neither does his pompous co-star Ed Norton. Quite how close the movie personas are to their real selves we’ll never know, but you can see why the leads (as well as Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Lindsay Duncan) all wanted a piece of this bitter confection – there’s so much for them to dig their teeth into. Played like one continuous tracking shot – there are no dissolves or cuts, though a static scene may move from day to night – it’s a relentless two hours as Keaton and his company prepare for the all-important opening night as calamity follows calamity in preview performances.
So why the review here on Sci-Fi Bulletin? Ah, I didn’t mention that Keaton also has telekinetic powers, can fly, and sees the costumed Birdman, who torments him in his dressing room. Or are these the signs of a mental breakdown? Perhaps some of it is real? Don’t look for easy answers, but do revel in the scathing jab at fame, movies, obsessions, unfulfilled dreams and the commercialisation of the Great White Way. Lindsay Duncan’s theatre critic is an acerbic harridan, gloating at her ability to shut down a play through one mean-spirited review. She doesn’t care if the play is good or bad, she wants to move the play along so that something more deserving can fill its place.
A dazzling and ambitious antidote to Christmas blockbusters, use this as a New Year purge – a cinematic detox to cleanse your palate. It may be a satire, but there’s a real truth to what it says, and let’s not forget the Broadway mess that was Spider-Man the Musical.
Verdict: Michael Keaton is back and on top form. Even if he can’t be convinced to don the cowl and Cape again we do have the delicious prospect of his return as Beetlejuice. 9/10