The year 2014 may not be the best year of film ever, or maybe it is. I don't know what to think of the year as a whole quite yet and neither does anybody else. One thing is for certain though, the year 2014 will go down as one of the best years for performances. Each year, the awards circuit tends to be pretty competitive in the acting categories. This year though, I would hate to be a Academy member, because trying to narrow down a list of five nominees seems like a daunting task. This has been a year rich with performances and it seems actors I did not really care for in the past are making their roles count. No actor has surprised me more so far, than Michael Keaton.
"Birdman" is one of the strangest and oddly amazing experiences you will have all year. Something that is blisteringly funny, enticingly dramatic and puzzlingly addicting. I would not call "Birdman" a movie for everyone. I understand that there is only so much weird that some people can take. If you give it an honest go, you maybe surprised by how hard it hits you. There is a unique style that the film uses to tell its story, and it is wonderful to behold. A lot of what makes "Birdman" work though, is the impeccable work done by Michael Keaton. For the first time in his entire career, Keaton bears his soul on camera. I think Keaton has caught lightning in a bottle during his career before, but he just caught it again.
"Birdman" tells the story of Riggan Thompson (Keaton), an actor who was once famous for playing the lead in Birdman, a trilogy of superhero films that came out in the 1990's. Now, trying to get back into the game, Riggan is writing, directing and starring in a play on Broadway. Each day is a struggle to keep the show flowing, keeping all the actors in check, and especially Riggan keeping himself together. The birdman is always in his thoughts, talking to him about his life. One of Riggan's assistants is his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who he was never really there for. This play is Riggan's big comeback, but can he pull it all together?
Just as much as this play is a comeback for Riggan, the movie itself is a comeback for Keaton. This is going to redefine him as an actor, mark my words. I think from this point forward, we are going to see a brand-new Michael Keaton, and that is an exciting thought. Performance-wise, he is just one of the many greats. Emma Stone does touching work as Sam, and she turns a character that could have been a cliche into someone to look for. Zack Galifanakis shows up as Riggan's lawyer, and he doesn't play one of the overbearing dimwits he usually plays. Edward Norton plays a highly respected stage actor with a big ego, and Edward does incredible work, playing off Keaton's character with glee. Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborogh do strong work in this film as well. I was actually amazed by just how strikingly funny Watts is. I have never really seen her do a role which was somewhat comedic, but she makes it look effortless. Riseborogh also plays off of Keaton in a very natural, fun way.
I love that this is a movie about an actor trying to get a play off the ground, and much of the movie plays like a play. The film takes place over the span of three, maybe four days. Yet, we never leave the Broadway block. The film feels like one, long continuous scene with no breaks or no fade-outs. Its as if our eye-lids are open wide from too much caffeine and we are watching this bizarre tale span out, with plenty of wild hallucinations. This maybe something that turns most people off, because the film feels disjointed at times because of it. I couldn't help but notice how well it paralleled the idea of the stage play and how it brought a unique spin on the idea.
I can say with utter importance and truth that there will not be another film coming out this year that is like "Birdman." Just as this movie reinvents what can be done onscreen, an actor completely reinvents himself as an artist. "Birdman" is a movie about artists who take a leap of faith, at a time where everything could not be darker. In a weird, warped way, "Birdman" shows why that tiny spark of light is so important for all individuals, and why we always must strike when the iron is hot. I could not have asked for a better message wrapped in a movie as original or as soulful as this.
FINAL GRADE: A