Orson Welles, who opened TOUCH OF EVIL with a brilliant four-minute tracking shot without cuts (intentionally outdone by Robert Altman in THE PLAYER while Fred Ward mentions TOUCH OF EVIL), once noted that for directors, a scene without cuts separates the men from the boys. Well in this case, BIRDMAN filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu is Methuselah…
The entire movie consists of several long sequences without the impression of any cuts, allowing the actors to venture backstage and on stage of a Raymond Carver adaptation that Keaton’s Riggan Thomas... who once played a cinematic superhero named Birdman... is starring in to revamp a nostalgic career.
As is completely obvious, Keaton’s casting is no accident… He was Batman in two films and Riggan was Birdman in three: And neither has broken any real ground since. But pop culture coincidence aside, BIRDMAN feels more like a John Cassavetes meets Darren Aronofsky impromptu piece, zigzagging through cathartic diatribes only to be hindered by distracting special effects.
Keaton does a great job whenever speaking his mind with a desperately primitive heart and soul. One particular scene as he lectures a snobby critic is topnotch. But there are moments where he seems to be going through the motions – yet these motions leap beyond any character he's ever played, which could be the intention all along.
Even when BIRDMAN flies higher than necessary, there’s always something, and someone… including Edward Norton as a moody stage actor and Emma Stone as Riggan’s disgruntled daughter… to marvel at. But Keaton deserved a more subtle approach to be completely effective. In a canvas stretched beyond its own paint, our hero gets lost in the shuffle.