Michael Keaton has had a career you would have to call interesting. From being and 80’s comedy giant with some of my favorites “Mr. Mom”, “Johnny Dangerously”, and “Beetlejuice” to becoming a superhero icon with 1989’s “Batman” where he was instantly identified as that character much like Christopher Reeve was with “Superman”. After turning in two performances as the Dark Knight, Keaton went the dramatic route to try to escape the type-casting of Batman, which in my opinion blended his comedy and dramatic performances perfectly. He did not even venture back into the world of comedy until almost a decade later with the underrated “Multiplicity” in 1996. Then he all but vanished from the spotlight taking bit roles in both film and TV, until he made his Pixar debut in 2010’s “Toy Story 3”. Then last year after dipping in his toe back in the mainstream as a over-the-top villain in a couple of films he comes back once again, only this time in a huge way with director Alexander Gonzales Inarritu’s “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).
In it Keaton plays Riggan a washed-up actor with a terrible home life who once played a fictional superhero named Birdman and is about to debut a risky play that he is writing, directing, and starring in to prove to the world and his ego that he is more than a guy who once wore a bird-mask. This is a phenomenal film by Inarritu whose credits include “Amores Perros”, and “Babel”. Shot in what is supposed to seem like one continuous shot which straddles the line between gimmicky and genius. With a stellar supporting cast like Edward Norton (Fight Club) who hasn’t been this great in years, Emma Stone (Easy A) as Riggan’s recovering addict daughter and in a career-altering role himself an almost unidentifiable Zach Galifianakis as Keaton’s friend and lawyer in the film. As I said with the single shot motif which I last saw in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (though I’m sure there has been some horror movie that I haven’t seen has done it as well) there are some fantastic images that litter the film, as Riggan deals with the grovely Birdman voice telling him he is doomed to fail and that he should just accept his fate as a false pop-icon. Watching Keaton struggle throughout the film is amazing to see, and you recall what a truly gifted actor he is. The jazzy drum soundtrack of the film complements the film perfectly as it almost feels like Inarritu himself was playing the script and camera like a jazz riff.
This film is not for everyone, especially for the people who are hoping to see a flat-out comedy or a different take on the wildly in-your-face superhero genre that will take over the cineplexes for the next six summers. No really, we’re supposed to get a new Green Lantern movie in 2020. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” feels like it is meant to ground us as well as entertain in a unique way. And despite Inarritu’s clear jab/rant at critics, I still love this film. It is even more encouraging to see that Michael Keaton taking roles like this one, his next being in a Tomas McCarthy (The Visitor) film, Keaton’s career is sure to soar once again. (What, you didn’t think I’d go the whole review without at least one bird pun did you?)
–Robert L. Castillo