Michael Keaton soars in ‘Birdman’

COURTESY FOX SEARCHLIGHTMichael Keaton has the role of a lifetime in the evocative “Birdman."

COURTESY FOX SEARCHLIGHTMichael Keaton has the role of a lifetime in the evocative “Birdman."

Michael Keaton is a great actor, and he may at last have found his great role, in “Birdman.”

That may sound like a strange statement about a guy who made many lowbrow comedies, a couple of Batman movies, and a string of nearly-forgotten films.

But, like Bill Murray and Jim Carrey, Keaton understands how comedy is part of a physical performance, how laughter is intertwined with pain and longing. A comedian like Keaton struggles in the open with these things. For him, there's a great deal at stake.

There's a great deal at stake, also, for Keaton's character Riggan Thomson. He was a success many years ago in three “Birdman” superhero movies, and now has decided to make his Broadway debut, directing starring in, and adapting a Raymond Carver short story (“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”) for the stage.

Also, Riggan hears a voice his his head and appears to have telekinetic powers. Keaton's co-stars are superb, totally dedicated to the cause. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Edward Norton play fellow actors, Emma Stone is his wounded daughter, Zach Galifianakis is his friend and business partner, and Amy Ryan is his ex-wife.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu seemingly films the movie in one continuous take. Or, more accurately, there are no visible edits. The great Emmanuel (“Gravity”) Lubezki's camera tracks through dressing rooms, down narrow hallways, snaking around backstage, up to hidden balconies, and occasionally outside.

This approach creates a very different rhythm for a movie; edits usually provide little breaks, a little “reset” between moments and scenes, but in “Birdman,” everything is a continuous maelstrom.

The movie is perfectly tuned to Keaton's instrument. It leaps and pitches, dips halfway to insanity, and remains firmly rooted. It may be the first time since “Beetlejuice” that a movie has fully supported him.

What a gift that Iñárritu has devoted himself to such a passionate actor, and such a worthy cause. It's the best film in the director’s career, which lately has been devoted to Oscar-hunting (“21 Grams,” “Babel,” “Biutiful”).

“Birdman” toys with many themes, flitting through the film like streams of consciousness, leaving half-remembered impressions. What is an actor? Is real art better than commercial entertainment? Why do we need love, or adoration? What do we want out of life? Do we have the simple power of truly appreciating a bird, or a flower?

In this movie, the answers are always there, but the catch is that we never stop moving.

REVIEW

Birdman

Four stars

Starring: Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Emma Stone

Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Alejandro González IñárrituartsBirdmanMichael KeatonMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on Dec. 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
Kamala Harris to resign from Senate

Bridget Bowman CQ-Roll Call Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from the… Continue reading

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pelosi called for the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump a day after his supporters stormed the Capitol. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
Feds seeking woman whose ex says she stole Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during Capitol riot

Jeremy Roebuck The Philadelphia Inquirer Federal authorities have obtained an arrest warrant… Continue reading

Most Read