Michael Keaton delivers an award-baiting, go-for-broke performance as a washed-up movie star making a frazzled bid for artistic credibility in this fizzing black comedy, a hectic, hilarious film whose manic tempo will leave you giddy.
Shot in one seemingly unbroken take, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ricochets around the scuffed backstage dressing rooms and corridors of the Broadway theatre where Keaton’s former Hollywood hotshot, Riggan Thomson, is trying to shed his past as an iconic cinematic superhero by staging his own arty adaptation of a dour Raymond Carver short story.
His fellow actors, family and fans throw all manner of crises in his path, but his screen avatar is his biggest problem. An insistent nagging voice in his ear, his alter ego just won’t let him pursue his dream in peace.
Birdman marks a distinct change of pace for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, a playful move away from the globetrotting, multi-stranded, jigsaw-puzzle narratives of such films as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel in favour a story that revolves around a single character and takes place (mostly) in a single location.
Propelled by a jittery jazz drum score by Antonio Sanchez, Birdman hurtles at breakneck pace between farcical backstage comedy and neurotic fantasy, with Keaton’s own superhero past giving an extra comic fillip to his daring vanity-free performance. His co-stars are tremendous, too, notably Emma Stone as Riggan’s damaged, fresh-out-of-rehab daughter and Edward Norton as a Broadway actor who takes Method realism to absurd lengths, with Lindsay Duncan contributing a vivid cameo as a sour New York Times theatre critic.
Certificate 15. Runtime 119 mins. Director Alejandro G Iñárritu.
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