Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, wr. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo, st. Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts
Miffed that Robert Downey, Jr. seems to be nigh on the only actor earning credible critical acclaim and public adulation for his portrayal of a superhero, fading Hollywood star Riggan Thomson played with fatigued frustration by Michael Keaton, once besuited himself in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, decides to mount a production of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love on Broadway, assisted by his rehabbing daughter Sam (Stone), produced by his best friend Jake (Galifianakis), and co-starring his girlfriend Laura (Riseborough), in order to validate himself to an audience whose approval he craves and a psyche whose ego hangs in tatters. Aided by a tremendous turn by Edward Norton as Mike, a brilliant but volatile actor who joins the production in its previews (and does his fair share of thunder and daughter-stealing), Birdman broods much on the nature of celebrity, the restless desire for approval, and the illusory deception of reinvention, all packaged in an aptly stagey production (ostensibly shot in one take by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) that glides us around the secret backstages and roofs of theatres and down populated sidewalks and squares. It is, undoubtedly a technical marvel, and Keaton taps hitherto unseen reserves of neuroses and mania that reminds us just how much of a beat-perfect comic actor he can be. Stone too amps up the tetch as a doting but similarly frustrated ex-addict, wooed and swooned by Norton's Mike, a method-man whose rapid-fire delivery of the text, often out-Sorkining Sorkin, is a perfect verbal accompaniment to the spinning, unrelenting choreography of González Iñárritu's lens. Ultimately though, Birdman is a film that invests too much in the supposed coherence of is message. There's precious little in the way of understanding just what makes Riggan tick or how his tragic unravelling began. Instead, we are compelled to fill in the gaps ourselves, dazzled by subtle in-camera trickery, or overwhelmed by purportedly whip-smart dialogue. The result is a film that merely flits overhead when it should truly soar.