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'Birdman': Michael Keaton Is a Washed-Up Star in Gonzalez Inarritu's One-Take Wonder

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire August 27, 2014 at 10:48AM

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu goes "Gravity" with a simulated single-take story, and gets the award race off to a running start.
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Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance)."
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance)."

Americans are counting the hours until Labor Day weekend, but at the Venice Film Festival, the fall movie got into full swing with the opening night premiere of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu's "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance)." (Yes, that's the correct punctuation; and yes, it pains me to write it thus.) Based on the rapturous notices, the simulated single-take film, featuring ingenious tracking shots by "Gravity" cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and some seamless digital blending, represents something of a comeback for González Iñarritu after the multicharacter rehash of "Babel" and the melodramatic "Biutiful," and even more of one for its star, Michael Keaton. The part of a washed-up movie star trying to reinvent himself as a playwright draws obvious parallels with Keaton's own career — try swapping "Bird-" for "Bat-" — but seems to draw on the manic comic energy Keaton has too rarely exercised on screen of late. Although it's a likely candidate for this weekend's Telluride Film Festival, Americans won't get their first pre-announced look at the movie until the New York Film Festival's closing night, but it sounds as if we've got quite a lot to look forward to in the meantime. 

"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance)" opens in theaters October 17.

More reviews of "Birdman"

Peter Debruge, Variety

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.


Jessica Kiang, Playlist

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a phenomenal film. The feverishly anticipated (not least by us) new movie from Alejandro González Iñárritu blasted through its Venice premiere (it’s the opening film) in a giddy, gonzo rush--so exciting, so moment-to-moment enjoyable that to expect profundity would be greedy. And yet it delivers on that level too; it is as thoughtful and smart as it is infectiously absurd. That, perhaps is the biggest surprise of an endlessly surprising, inventive film: whatever the sum of its chatter-worthy elements, like how it basically launches and completes the “Keatonnaissance” in one fell swoop, or the incredible camerawork that is imperceptibly stitched together into (mostly) one long seamless, cutless take, “Birdman” adds up to more. It’s borderline miraculous.


Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

Propelled by outbursts of virtuoso jazz drumming by Antonio Sanchez, the story's action spans several days but plays out in a visual continuum of time unbroken — until the very end — by any evident cuts; it's as if the already legendary opening 13-minute take in "Gravity" had persisted through the entire movie. It's no coincidence that the same cinematographer, the incomparable Lubezki, shot both films, although the effect here is very different; as lucid and controlled as the camerawork may be, it's also bold, propulsive, even raw at times and invariably in the right place at the right time to catch the actors as they dart in and out, get in each others' faces or ponder the effect of what they've just said or done to someone else. 


Mark Adams, Screen International

"Birdman" might lack the ‘wow’ factor Cuaron’s disaster-in-space film, but it is just as technically complex in its own right, while also allowing for a series of striking – and often very funny and insightful – performances to drive its enthralling story.


Alonso Duralde, the Wrap

The director has wisely assembled an ensemble of performers who know how to handle a long take; this will certainly rank among Keaton's career highlights — in a role that allows him to completely dump out his paintbox and show a vast range of emotion — but everyone shines. (Keep an eye peeled for comedy all-stars Merritt Weaver and Zach Galifianakis, both squeezing every drop out of their smallish roles.) While Lubezki's bravura camerawork (particularly in a segment involving Times Square, a packed Broadway theater, and a skivvies-clad Keaton) threatens to steal the show, these actors all know how to draw focus.


Robbie Collin, Telegraph

There are streaks of "42nd Street," "The Producers" and "Sunset Blvd." here, but otherwise, "Birdman" isn’t much like anything else at all. Think "Black Swan" directed by Mel Brooks and you’re in the vicinity, but only just.


Xan Brooks, Guardian

At times "Birdman" reminded me of Charlie Kaufman’s "Synecdoche, New York," a more melancholy riff on a similar theme; at others of Alexander Mackendrick’s sublime "The Sweet Smell of Success," with its restless, prowling tour of nocturnal midtown Manhattan. There’s no doubt it makes for a jubilant ride, a galvanic first blast. But it remains a film which feels deeply thought rather than deeply felt; a brilliant technical exercise as opposed to a flesh-and-blood story.


Catherine Bray, HitFix

"Birdman" dares to be ambiguous, but unlike most essays in ambiguity, it is also a hell of a lot of fun.


Cath Clarke, Time Out

We know Iñárritu has a dark side (just look at his previous films like ‘Amores Perros’ and ‘Babel'), and it's not entirely hidden here. Life is disappointing, his film is saying (it opens with a Carver quote, ‘Did you get what you wanted out of life?'). But it's also beautiful and, at times, unexpected. 

Tommaso Tocci, Film Stage

Defined by its own snowballing eccentricity, "Birdman" has too many balls to juggle around, though admittedly its protagonist does too. The extent of the film’s thematic canvas — reality vs. representation, personal suffering as artistic transcendence, a dash of contemporary movie business satire — mirrors the trajectory of the man’s psychological breakdown, even if he weren’t talking to an imaginary version of himself in full Birdman costume and Bale-like (nice touch) growling voice, or channeling his rage into telekinetic powers.

Adam Woodward, Little White Lies

A wickedly subversive, riotously funny intertextual psycho-odyssey that doesn't so much play fast-and-loose with cinematic convention as spit directly into its face.


Eric Kohn, Indiewire

With its relentless pace and bizarre circumstances, it hovers in an off-kilter state, leaving open the suggestion that the entire thing may take place within its protagonist's head. Considering that he's got a lot on his mind, "Birdman" is a sensory overload that exists in a class by itself. 


Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice

The script may not go as deep as it purports to: Like so many stories about existential crises, it suffers from a kind of generic listlessness. And it whacks a little too obviously at some of its targets - the noisy emptiness of blockbusters and the obnoxious supremacy of social media, for example. But "Birdman" has humor on its side — it's mischievously, darkly funny, as when Edward Norton, as a hotshot, loose-cannon actor, literally destroys a stage set after launching into a "None of this is real!" tirade. 


This article is related to: Birdman, Birdman Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance, Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Venice Film Festival, Venice 2014


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