Michael Keaton put his pride on the line for “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” In the film that some critics are already calling the best of 2014, he plays a washed-up actor who was once a star of a Hollywood superhero movie and who is now attempting to redeem himself as an artist by presenting a Broadway show. In other words: himself.
The metaphor is blatant and unapologetic. Keaton, while certainly not out of work (he’s had a steady flow of minor parts and voice roles) has not had a major role since the ’90s, and is best known for his performance as Batman in “Batman” (1989) and “Batman Returns” (1992). Riggan Thomson, Keaton’s character in “Birdman,” had also seemingly seen his prime many years ago as the star of a fictional “Birdman” superhero movie.
With his significance so clearly in jeopardy, Keaton gave a stunning performance that showcased his versatility as an actor and has stirred up tons of Oscar buzz. He was able to fully communicate the struggles of Riggan, but also nail the necessary comedic relief. Many critics are claiming that it was his best performance to date, an impressive feat for a 63-year-old actor.
Though his performance was exceptional, I personally favored the performances of the supporting actors and actresses.
Riggan’s first dialogue is with Jake, his best friend and the manager of the show, played by Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis, perhaps best known for his hilarious performance in “The Hangover” (2009), proves that he can astound as a serious, dramatic actor. He delivers some of the film’s most emotional moments as well as some if it’s funniest, as expected.
Emma Stone plays the extremely dynamic Sam Thomson (Riggan’s daughter). Stone gives a subtle, indirect insight into Riggan’s life and personality by slowly revealing her feelings toward him.
Finally, Edward Norton shines as the famous fictional Broadway actor Mike Shiner, who saves the play when Riggan is in need of a lead actor. Norton flawlessly captures a stubborn and alcoholic artistic genius who lives passionately onstage, but cannot fully realize himself in his day-to-day life.
In addition to the knockout cast, there are many other factors that contribute to the film’s critical success. The score perfectly accentuated the tone that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was trying to convey in each scene. The first three-quarters of the film were adorned with a simple but dramatic jazzy drum rhythm, the performer of which would sometimes magically appear in a doorway that the camera passed by. As soon as I was sure that I would only be hearing drums for the entirety of the film, a huge orchestral piece appeared in a moment of levity for Riggan.
It is also imperative to mention Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography. The timeline was presented as one “continuous” shot, where extra time would pass as the camera passed by a wall or into another room. Most scenes were minutes long, with the camera flying around the set instead of cutting to multiple angles.
These and other key players made “Birdman” an exceptional and well-loved film. It received an 88 percent on rating-aggregate website Metacritic and a 93 percent on well-respected movie critic website Rotten Tomatoes, two rare and exceptional accolades. “Birdman” has been playing in select theaters (including Philadelphia’s Ritz Five) since Oct. 17, so grab your ticket now if you want to be prepared come Oscar season.