Most of us remember Michael Keaton’s successful string of comedies in the early 1980s that started off with “Night Shift” and “Mr. Mom”. Afterwards, he starred in Tim Burton’s highly anticipated “Batman” in 1989. By 1992, he once again played the caped crusader in “Batman Returns”, earning Keaton widespread acclaim. Then something happened; Keaton’s movies were more “misses” than “hits” until he seemed to disappear from cinema screens overnight. Keaton’s career had fallen into the category of insignificance. He missed out on meatier roles and blockbuster box office winners. Years later, even as he found himself providing voices to successful animated films (“Cars”, “Toy Story 3”), Keaton was never handed that potential Academy Award acting part or movie. Until now.
Keaton’s enthralling performance completely dominates this film from start to finish. As the character Riggan Thomson, Keaton plays a once famous actor still revered by his fans for his superhero movie persona Birdman from years ago. Riggan, perhaps similar to Keaton following his Batman days, doesn’t want history to only remember him for wearing the crime-fighting costume. Unwilling to reprise the Birdman gig for a fourth movie installment, Keaton’s character leaves Hollywood for the world of Broadway plays. Now, struggling to gain acceptance from critics, fans and his family, Keaton’s Riggan becomes despondent. Keaton’s intensity shines throughout the movie like a laser in a dark theater. But by no means does he carry this remarkable film solely. The film’s edgy behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway production reveals a combative storyline from its entire cast and crew.
Just as impressive as Keaton’s acting gem in this movie is the extraordinary job two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”, 1996) does to keep the plot and film moving along effortlessly. Norton’s character, Mike, is hired as a last-minute replacement actor to co-star opposite Keaton’s delusional Riggan in the Broadway play. Together, Keaton and Norton give movie audiences a volatile mix of personalities so convincingly testy that viewers will be left cringing at times and shaking their heads. Likewise, Naomi Watts (2-time Academy Award nominee) perfectly stars as the uncertain female lead in the play’s production. Rounding out the splendid cast are Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover” trilogy) and Emma Stone (“Amazing Spider-Man”).
“Birdman” marks such a powerful, riveting masterpiece by Keaton and his co-stars, that this film should garner several Oscar nominations. It’s almost certain to make the list for Best Picture while Keaton is a heavy favorite to get a nod for Best Actor. “Birdman” also makes a strong case for Academy Award nominations in the Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) and Best Directing (Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) categories.
Fight Club 2: Keaton and Norton in action.
Aside from the exceptionally strong acting performances, the movie also excels in the cinematography department. Despite being filmed almost entirely within the confines of their Broadway theater, the terrific camera angles and shots deserves separate mention. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu gallantly captures the long, maze-like hallways containing the brisk-paced walk of Keaton and others in single, continuous shots. Viewers become transfixed on the theater set itself; both the happenings in front of the stage and behind it–never missing a step with the characters. At other times, the film holds a shot an extra few seconds for effect and audience reflection. It’s that unique showcase of the film’s storyline on camera, combined with brilliant leading and supporting acting, that makes “Birdman” one of the best films in 2014.
“Birdman” provides Michael Keaton the opportunity to remold his film legacy. While Keaton has attempted for years to rekindle his 1990s popularly at the box office, fictional superhero Riggan Thomson has refused to be typecast as Birdman–despite the insecurity that his decision costs him. It’s only fitting that Keaton’s character in “Birdman” desires relevancy and acceptance while taking on a new direction. After all, it’s the movie “Birdman” that stands to help return Keaton to the top of the entertainment business. And in return, look for this film to gain massive Oscar buzz come this January–thanks to the dynamic duo of Keaton and Norton.
“Birdman” is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 59 minutes.
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