There’s little surprise that jazz-tinged drum fills serve as part of Alejandro González Iñárritu score for Birdman, the comedy that opens on area screens Friday (Oct. 31).
It’s a wonderfully daffy, poignant and occasionally hilarious film that without a doubt marches to a different beat in tone, story and style.
Inarritu delves deeply into so many different themes in this story of an actor trying so hard to escape his past that Birdman evolves into a smorgasbord of cinematic delights all centered on the talent that is Michael Keaton, who burst on the screen more than 30 years ago in Night Shift with a rat-a-tat-tat speech pattern that fits in Birdman like a beak.
Keaton’s never showed too much ego or never much in the way of vanity in his roles, but he’s always shown sincerity.
Sitting across from him in roundtable interviews from Jack Frost, an amiable family Christmas movie that’s grown on me throughout the years, he practically pleaded with the assembled entertainment media to go easy on it knowing that it ran the risk of being savaged. The sincerity is remembered and it’s always been one of his endearing qualities as an actor.
It shows up to a great degree in Birdman in his portrayal of Riggan Thomson, a down-on-his luck actor looking to escape his signature role that of a winged superhero named Birdman. Thomson had the audacity to pass on a fourth film in the series and the decision has literally haunted him for years. He’s attempting to move on by financing, writing, directing and starring in the production of a Broadway play that he adapted from a piece by the author who inspired him.
That undertaking comes with its own perils as Thomson must deal with the egos and peccadillos of his eccentric cast that includes Naomi Watts and Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk). That situation lends itself to poking fun of the world of acting and filmmaking as Norton’s portrayal of pretentious method actor making Thomson’s production miserable provides plenty of satirical moments.
But the genius in Birdman comes in Keaton’s portrayal of Thomson. After all, this is the guy who showed the ultimate in integrity by walking away from the Batman franchise began by Tim Burton and eventually ruined by Joel Schumacher because he saw the ruin it would come to. Turns out he was right.
Keaton gets to wrestle with what could have been and he takes full advantage mining it for every bit of comedy, drama and overall emotion. And he does so with the skill expected.
Inarritu brings the audience into the little world he creates with a compelling story, but he does so with his camera’s eye, also. That jazz theme resonates in the way he filmed Birdman in that it plays like one long shot creating a sense of heightened realism.
This is filmmaking at its best and it makes Birdman soar.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts Edward Norton
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Rated: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Running time: 119 minutes
George’s rating: 4-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com