Birdman is the story of a washed up superhero actor (lead actor Michael Keaton in a tour de force performance) trying to revive his career by directing and starring in his own Broadway play. The movie begins with the show’s previews and things are not going well.
A thinned down Zach Galifianakis plays the show’s producer, and Keaton’s best friend, trying to get the show made despite the unstable mind of his lead actor and director. Edward Norton plays a cocky famous actor brought in to help save the Broadway show. Michael Keaton’s character is largely threatened by his casting and two spar. Emma Stone plays Keaton’s daughter and Amy Ryan his ex-wife. Naomi Watts is on hand also as cast member of the play.
What makes this movie so special is Edward Norton’s bare ass near the beginning of the film. Just kidding. While that is nice a stand out here, it is the innovative story telling structure by Alejandro González Iñárritu and his director of photography that sets this film apart. The film is essentially one dizzying long shot with no visible cuts or reverse angles or cutaways throughout its running time. The result is that the movie plays out like a live play much like the one Keaton’s character is planning on mounting. While that may seem like a Robert Altman like move, consider that the entire movie is one long winding shot with camera twisting and turning around, through interiors and exteriors and even in front of mirrors, yet you don’t see the cameras.
Keaton’s character is portrayed as both delusional and breaking down mentally or somehow magical and breaking down mentally and the audience is left to decide. The film never really fully answers the question although suggests one over the other at the film’s end.
All the actors here are working with perfect timing which is necessary not to ruin the long shots that make up this movie, but the spotlight is on Michael Keaton here. No more just the comic genius of Beetlejuice or the snarky patter of Batman. And let’s not forget Gung Ho or Mr. Mom… okay we can forget those. Keaton plays a darkly complex character that puts him squarely in the Oscar race along with the director and cinematographer. One thing is for sure, this is the type of artful film that will be studied and discussed in film theory classes for years to come.