It isn’t quite fair to say Michael Keaton is back thanks to his often brilliant performance in “Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) because, despite his long absence, Keaton has never performed at this high a level.
Fact melds well with fiction as Keaton’s struggles to overcome the shadow of his role as Batman parallel his character Riggan’s difficulty separating himself mentally from the super hero character Birdman that made him a movie star 20 years ago.
The angst Riggan feels throughout the film is identifiable for the viewer because of Keaton’s presence on screen. George Clooney and Matt Damon cannot make that kind of connection with the audience because of how personal the role feels for Keaton.
Though Keaton is tremendous in a role clearly built for him, he’s not the reason to see perhaps the most innovative film in 2014.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, best known for “21 Grams” and “Babel,” has plotted an intense thriller schemed as a black comedy through the use of extended one-take camera shots that leave the viewer wondering how in the world filmmakers pulled it off.
Well-pulled off digital trickery as well as creative camera and editing work make “Birdman” feel like one continuous long take with seamless transitions from one scene to the next.
“Birdman” also boasts a terrific supporting cast, including Emma Stone as Keaton’s recovering addict daughter, a calm Zach Galifianakis as Keaton’s best friend and lawyer and Oscar nominee Amy Ryan as Keaton’s ex-wife.
All give quality performances, but pale in comparison to the tour de force effort from Edward Norton who provides the perfect foil as Keaton’s acting partner.
It’s going to be difficult for “Birdman” to find wide mainstream appeal as its highly complex psychology and frantic cinematic style won’t resonate with a larger percentage of audiences.
It doesn’t help that the film lambasts these same viewers in its not-so-subtle critique of the Hollywood superhero film genre.
“Birdman” seeks out more sophisticated viewers — the kind who prefer a dramatic Broadway play to “Iron Man 3” — and makes no bones about the latter being a lesser form of art.
Viewers need to appreciate “Birdman” for the artwork and not necessarily the message if they want to enjoy one of the year’s most innovative pieces of filmmaking.