Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
When we first see Michael Keaton's Riggan Thomson in Birdman, he is levitating mid-air. Later, when in a fit of rage, Thomson doesn't smash things; he slams them around with his mind's power.
He was once Birdman - a successful star who acted in three films about this winged superhero - and that ghost refuses to leave him. It makes him soar up high and crash, rant out loud and quietly implode.
A niggling voice in the beginning, Birdman's hold on Thomson goes on increasing as the film progresses. And as that happens, Thomson grip on reality keeps on loosening.
The beauty of this film is that Thomson is not the only flawed character; he is just the most prominent of them. A superstar once who wants to exorcise the reason which made him important and popular once, we see Thomson as a washed up actor in his sixties.
Thomson wants be free of Birdman and a Broadway play is how he is going to do it. He stakes every penny he has on a play that he is writing, directing and acting in. Adapted from a Raymond Carver story, the play is titled, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love'.
This may sound like a vanity project but we get the sense that Thomson's very sanity depends on it. Zach Galifianakis - in a very un- Galifianakis role -- plays Thomson's lawyer-producer and go-to guy. When one of the leads in the play gets brained, movie star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) steps in. He is an egomaniac but bankable. He enters the scene after not only memorizing his lines, but with plans to change those of others as well.
This makes all of Thomson's insecurities bubble to the surface. The frames where Shiner and Thomson appear together are explosive: they argue and they make up, and in one amazing scene even scuffle with each other.
Another great performance is delivered in the film by Emma Watson as Thomson's just-back-from-rehab daughter, Sam. Her liquid eyes hold both love and loathing for her troubled father. When she is not playing truth and dare with Shiner, she is dressing down Thomson for thinking of himself as someone special but being practically invisible in this world ruled by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Before the film ends, Shiner will be 'someone' in the virtual world after he walks around Broadway in his tighty whities. It is the this scene, or the one where Thomson is this close to committing suicide after falling off the wagon that brings out the technical excellence of this film. The camera seems to be running a long, unedited montage as the background score (mostly drums) dips and reaches a crescendo.
More existential than comedic, Birdman pecks and pecks at Hollywood's obsession with superheroes. When an actor is injured on sets, Thomson inquires about his replacement. He asks about Woody Harrelson? No, he is doing Hunger Games. What about Fassbender? He is doing prequel of a prequel. And Robert Downey Jr? Busy with Avengers.
And thereby lies the sweet irony that inhabits this film-- three of its lead characters have been important cogs in the multi-billion machinery which is superhero genre. Keaton has played the caped crusader in Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns, Norton was Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk, Watson played Gwen Stacy in the rebooted Amazing Spiderman franchise.
It appears, there is no getting away from the feathered-and-beaked Birdman, and his ilk.