If there is any indication that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has broken new ground with the art of filmmaking, this is a brilliant example. Where so many directors fail to capture depth, he captures it without managing to come off overly pretentious. This is what makes "Birdman" work so well.
The wildly original premise of a fading actor named Riggin Thompson (played by Michael Keaton, in the finest performance of his career to date) as he attempts to make a comeback on Broadway is a wild ride. He is adapting a Raymond Carver story for the stage, one he is not only starring in, but writing and directing as well. Where the film's panache lies is in its ridiculousness that couldn't be pulled off in any other film.
Riggin is determined to make not only a comeback for his career, but theatre history. To his disadvantage are numerous circumstances surrounding the play, including an overly egotistical actor (played wonderfully by Edward Norton), a series of interrupted stage incidents, and a rocky relationship with his problematic daughter (Emma Stone, in the most mature and honest performance of her career to date).
To make matters worse, he also keeps hearing voices in his head which are those of his former character, a superhero of which was the peak of his popularity. Experiencing elements of telekinesis and levitation, the film's focus becomes the things that thwart his play and how he deals with them. Or how he doesn't.
It's a stunning portrayal of the life of a washed-up actor trying to find his way back in the spotlight. An original story, both metaphorically and philosophically, with a stunning ensemble to light its path.
But beyond all the amazing performances are the little details that make up the big picture. "Birdman" is given the look and feel that it is filmed entirely in one take. This feat could have been a complete train-wreck, but Inarritu and company build the film stylishly and fearlessly. That being said, the cinematography (done by the always impressive Emmanuel Lubezki) is stunning. One memorable and, presumably classic scene in which Keaton is flying over New York City will remain, in my opinion, a Hollywood milestone.
The only problems that lie in this massive achievement are unfortunately very silly ones. This brilliant idea that could have gone just about anywhere does not need to contain a lesbian sequence that just doesn't fit. Nor does it need to be quite the two-hour running time it is. If anything, the film is just a tad too Hollywoodized, even if an intelligent concept.
Regardless of these slight inadequacies, "Birdman" is not only original, but it contains the best performances of the year, with Keaton, an already powerhouse actor in his long-time career, leading the group. Where ignorance lies, "Birdman" flies.
Winner of 4 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography.
3 1/2 STARS