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Oscars 2015 Contender Film Review: "Birdman"
Redemptive High-Flying Black Comedy-Drama Is A Breathtaking Technical Showcase With Narrative Brilliance!
Alejandro Inarritu strikes again! The director behind the Mexican-American touchstone films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel takes an unprecedented cinematic experiment and not only completely delivers in stunning fashion, but re-invents the formulaic wheel of filmmaking and takes it into an expansive new direction.
Wisely casting an array of A-Listers who can handle extremely long takes and overlapping dialogue (reminiscent of the films of the late Robert Altman), the director becomes the master sorcerer and conjures up a tale that is both based in fiction and in reality. Michael Keaton, who really hasn't had a memorable role since Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, Batman & Batman Returns (*cough* 1998's Jack Frost), taps into his enormous reservoir of angst, anxiety and deep depression that's been fueled by the actor's real-life difficulties in finding and capitalizing on the roles that made him famous. So, he mounts a towering play that's meant to signal a bid for his former glory and the results are both magical, irreverent, laughable and transcendent. Whatever the case, Keaton confidently anchors the film and disappears behind it as you feel how tortured he is with the price of fame.
Keaton is not the only mentionable actor worth noting. Inarritu regulars Naomi Watts & Edward Norton also do some of their best work in years. Watts intentionally overacts and plays the role of a primadonna actress perfectly. Norton, playing an extremely egomaniacal but suave actor who is the other co-star alongside Keaton in the play within the film steals every scene he is in and capitalizes to the hilt. Without spoiling anything, he spends the majority of his screentime goading and making a fool out of Keaton as a director & actor as he makes him question his self-worth as an actor and as a father to Emma Stone's character. The scenes between them are some of the most comic but brutal parts of the flick.
Stone, for her brief time on screen, gives such a soulful and captivating performance it can almost make you forget her bland turn as Gwen Stacy in the recently rebooted Spiderman franchise. As a recovering heroin addict who acts as her dad's Stage Manager, Stone not only dropped the requisite amount of weight for the role but she acts as the film's moral center and as a result buts heads repeatedly not only with Keaton but pretty much everyone else. Her performance is Supporting Actress Oscar-worthy. Lastly, it is Zach Galifianakis who makes the most improvement career-wise and all but sheds his affable, stoner, goofball persona and does some great character work as Keaton's assistant/press agent. Leave it to Inarritu to bring out the best in everyone.
Inarritu, as a director and storyteller, manages wholeheartedly to keep all of the convoluted storylines and arcs in the air. Nothing is left unresolved by the closing credits except for a very poetic and moving closing scene which was used well as a great twist and cliffhanger. In the hands of a less technically-inclined director, the film could have been mangled and its impact muffled by too any artistic flourishes. Such is not the case here. Though, I can't help but wonder if this is a genuine restart to Keaton's career or just a one-off tease to keep audiences begging for more.