In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a veteran film actor who is eager to rebuild his reputation. Like Keaton, Thomson is largely remembered for playing a superhero 25 years ago. And, like Keaton, he has spent much of the intervening quarter of a century explaining why he abdicated from that role – in Thomson’s case, Birdman 4; Keaton, meanwhile, turned his back on Batman.

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Overall rating:

Score 6

Product:

Birdman

In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a veteran film actor who is eager to rebuild his reputation. Like Keaton, Thomson is largely remembered for playing a superhero 25 years ago. And, like Keaton, he has spent much of the intervening quarter of a century explaining why he abdicated from that role – in Thomson’s case, Birdman 4; Keaton, meanwhile, turned his back on Batman.

Along with Keaton, the cast includes Edward Norton and Emma Stone, both also veterans of superhero movies. Robert Downey Jr’s fee for Iron Man 3 is broached. Woody Harrelson, Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Renner are all sought by Thomson; but, alas, they are too busy with their respective billion-dollar franchises. Writer/director Alejando Iñárritu’s hall-of-mirrors film revels in such postmodernisms; indeed, at times you might be forgiven for thinking that without such referential conceits would the film even have cause to exist.

Initially, the plot is straightforward enough: it’s a backstage satire, set over a handful of days, as Thomson directs and acts in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver’s short story in a bid for artistic credibility. The first hour is essentially a Ray Cooney bedroom farce, full of rutting egos and romantic entanglements. All it lacks is for someone to accidentally drop their trousers in front a visiting vicar. Thomson’s co-star, Mike Shiner (Norton), is the epitome of strutting, Method-acting excess, he is also involved in a fraying relationship with the play’s leading lady, Leslie (Naomi Watts); even as Shiner upsets the production, Thomson learns that his girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough) – and second female lead – is pregnant, while his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is fresh out of rehab and struggling. Gradually, strange kinks assert themselves in the narrative: moments where Thomson levitates cross-legged in mid air, or takes flight across the New York rooftops. Along the way, Iñárritu and director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki let the film appear as if unspooling in a single take. It’s a nice piece of artifice; but much like Birdman itself it is a superficial rather than substantial attraction.

The actors digs at narcissism, ambition, insecurity, the wages of celebrity and the “cultural genocide” of Hollywood verge on the indulgent. “The play is starting to feel like a deranged, deformed version of myself,” Thomson says at one point. Ha, ha, yes; we get it! The second hour strips back every outstanding plot point to focus entirely on Thomson’s meltdown as opening night approaches. But it’s difficult to engage with Thomson’s plight: he is depthless and self-absorbed, and Iñárritu’s film isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

Michael Bonner

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  • fubsy

    and this review isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

  • Jim leward

    I guess your movie review career is over after this one.HAHA

  • you moron

    he had a plastic surgery. you moron

  • degeneral

    I think they did this, like -what I suspect most- modern artist do: intentionally selling cr”p as art to the snob public. “Here you go, I ripped the canvas; it’ll be $100k” (true story; go to Tate Modern to see it). And the public eats it up, otherwise they’d have to admit they have no idea what they are seeing. Similarly this movie does weird things (the flying around, the telekinetic powers, the sloppy, unexplained ending, the over-the-top personalities) to see how far they can go before someone says: this does not make one ounce of sense. Apparently, not far enough. There are some good points: the whole working of a theater, the contrast of blockbuster stars and “real actors”, the mental torture of the burned out star with Birdman whispering hard truths into his ear… but it all seems unfocused. If they stopped at the end of the play it might even have been OK. But no. (SPOILER) I think our hero deliberately changed the play so that he can ask the questions that haunt him in front of everyone before he blows his brain out… and then we end up with a guy with a bruised nose. No explanation. We are told he shot off his nose, but that nose is solidly there; he looks like if he was dancing with Ali, but definitely not getting his nose removed by a .45 bullet. The very ending itself stinks of this laziness… Yeah, “the viewer should decide”. Decide what, exactly? They just ran out of ideas, and cover this with saying “it’s art, it does not have to make sense”.