Can't really say what were my expectations with 'Birdman'. Praise was unanimous and the idea and cast highly promising, but I'm not among the fans of director Alejandro González Iñárritu, a risky and brave filmmaker that, in my opinion, frequently crosses the fine line between bold ambition to reach excess, grandiloquence and megalomania ('Babel', 'Biutiful'). But here it is: with 'Birdman', Iñarritu has reached a fantastic, at times mind-blowing balance between scope and format, between visuals and technical direction packed with a powerful story.
Black comedy? A dark satire on show business? A merciless account on this fake, social-media, techie, empty era where art is supposed to be tweeted? You name it. This is an up-to-date, very modern farce, a state-of-the-art version of 'Noises Off!' on which we are invited to see how yesterday's actor Riggan Thomson (brutal performance from Michael Keaton), once a very popular, iconic movie superhero tries to mount a Broadway play, on what it seems his last attempt to gain reputation, relevancy, respect and... also some direction on his chaotic life. But there are many, too many issues to deal with before the opening night arrives. Some have to do with the actors involved in the play, their egos and own traumas, some have to do with the crazy affair theatre seems to be, and the biggest, hardest ones, have to do with Thomson's head. While his family & career drifts away, his mind is not helping.. at all. The 'Birdman' is willing to fly again.
The amount of issues happening on 'Birdman' could had easily been a bit too much but, somehow, Iñarritu manages to reflect the doomed, frantic days before the play without loosing punch or pulse. It's an aesthetically addictive movie (it gives the fakey feeling it has been filmed in just one-take) and it keeps you surprised with its twists and turns. But there's also time to confront the audience with some questions about the role and meaning of art in this ultra-quick, fleeting and cynical era; about acting; about addictions, fame, self-doubt, fear and human miseries. The script is sardonic, explosive, a bit cruel and clever without preaching. Iñarritu talks about emotions in a very specific universe he does know well (filmmaking) and is able to transcend it to talk about human obsessions. Bravo.
If the script is poignant, performances are mostly outstanding. As I said, Keaton is amazing, but he's not alone. Edward Norton is stunning in his role of Mike Shiner, the beyond-intense egomaniacal Broadway star Thomson's needs to work at the very last moment. And Emma Stone (these eyes, OMG) is haunting as Sam, Thomson's troubled daughter, rebellious and vulnerable, at first a cliche character that turns to be one of the most captivating and complex of the entire film, having some of the most striking lines (the "you don't even exist" verbal fight with her father) . Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianiakis and Andrea Riseborough are also excellent on their supporting roles.
Just a few minor things make me rate 'Birdman' a bit lower than it would deserve. One is the annoying music. I understand it might have something to do with the inner voices and evil inside Thomson's head but it's insufferable. Another flaw are some superficial-secondary stories that are dropped without notice (the pregnancy issue). And finally, the shocking but unsatisfying final scene (no spoiling). Whatever the case, 'Birdman' is a must-see tour-de-force of a movie.