To attempt to summarise the visual and dramatic flair of Alejandro Gozalez Inarritu’s latest film Birdman, would probably result in a breakdown similar to the main character experience’s throughout this weaving, trippy nightmarish comedy.
Former superhero franchise actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is attempting to put on his own theatre adaptation of short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Surrounded by a cast of Broadway actors whose lives are defined by their talent, Riggan finds the pressure amped up leading into opening night, while the visage of his former superhero character Birdman manifests itself to remind him of all his failings and insecurities.
Quite unlike anything else, Birdman takes a long, hard look at the superhero franchise boom through the eyes of one of the actors to be left behind. The fact that it is Michael Keaton, the man to don the Batman cape and cowl before the current real world superhero film boom is casting perfection. His performance is what carries the mayhem and lunacy, while giving it that airy grounding and gravitas with a healthy side dollop of Beetlejuice-esque manic insanity.
The breathless single-shot takes that make up its running time give a real sense of narrative thrust and endeavour. The pressure increases on poor Riggan and he cracks and bubbles before our very eyes. The pressure of putting on a live performance has been covered in works like Black Swan, but where Birdman excels is in the sly look at Hollywood archetypes. You have the preening method actor (Edward Norton), the insecure female leads (Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough) as well as the obnoxious publicist (Zach Galifianakis). They all add stress to the main man, with only his flawed, but ultimately kind daughter (Emma Stone) giving him the support he actually needs.
Birdman himself appears, sometimes like a Harvey-esque invisible friend and sometimes in full outfit to tip poisonous words into Riggans mind and bring him closer and close to the brink of total collapse, and we as an audience get to see it all play out in glorious and bizarre technicolour.
Birdman is one of the most creative, original and impressive dramatic comedy films of the year and in Keaton we have a previously well-known actor drawing inspiration from his most iconic works to deliver a performance that is not only worthy of awards consideration, but far and away his best ever.