We’re off to the races. Venice Film Festival opener “Birdman,” from always-compelling Alejandro G. Inarritu, has earned raves from its first set of reviewers. I will participate in the next round, which is Telluride. (We’ll know the official line-up on Thursday.) The film closes the New York Film Festival in October.
Birdman flies very, very high. Intense emotional currents and the jagged feelings of volatile actors are turned loose to raucous dramatic and darkly comedic effect in one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement. An exemplary cast, led by Michael Keaton in the highly self-referential title role of a former super-hero film star in desperate need of a legitimizing comeback, fully meets the considerable demands placed upon it by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, as he now signs his name.
Initially, “Birdman” poses as a trenchant critique of the seemingly endless parade of men in capes that is the summer blockbuster season (Michael Fassbender and Robert Downey Jr. are name-checked as fine actors currently otherwise occupied), but it’s actually rather more nuanced than that. The values of the sober-minded art espoused by a poisonous critic (Lindsay Duncan) and the untrustworthy joys of escapist cinema are both probed and prodded. It’s impossible for a film featuring the nightmare creation of stage actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) – whose hilarious awfulness is signposted before he even opens his mouth by a fedora that is the millinery equivalent of a dick move – to be entirely on the side of capital T truth and capital A art. “Birdman” dares to be ambiguous, but unlike most essays in ambiguity, it is also a hell of a lot of fun.
A quarter-century after “Batman” ushered in the era of Hollywood mega-tentpoles — hollow comicbook pictures manufactured to enthrall teens and hustle merch — a penitent Michael Keaton returns with the comeback of the century, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a blisteringly hot-blooded, defiantly anti-formulaic look at a has-been movie star’s attempts to resuscitate his career by mounting a vanity project on Broadway. In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s fifth and best feature provides the delirious coup de grace — a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton’s career.
‘Most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings.’ So said Marlon Brando. But what happens when their 15 minutes are up? It’s not like failure suddenly transforms former mega-celebs into humble human beings who can pick up their own coffee from Starbucks. That’s Michael Keaton’s problem in this savagely funny, strangely sweet, sad and utterly brilliant New York-set comedy from Mexican writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu, better known for his gloomy, state-of-the world dramas ‘Babel’ and ’21 Grams’.