(US - 2014)
Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. Written by Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, and Armando Bo. Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Shamos, Merritt Wever, Clark Middleton, Damian Young, Bill Camp, Benjamin Kanes. (R, 119 mins)
Though it was conceived by AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and three collaborating screenwriters, the surreal dark comedy BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) could easily be interpreted as a soul-baring confessional for Michael Keaton and an analytical walk through his career. Both Inarritu and Keaton say that the film wasn't written specifically for Keaton, but after seeing BIRDMAN, it's impossible to picture anyone else starring in it. So many elements of Keaton's career and the public's perception of him--as well as the image of one co-star in particular--are woven into the fabric of the story that in many ways, you could argue that this is Keaton's ALL THAT JAZZ...minus, of course, the production numbers and the general theme of substance-abetted self-destruction. Both BIRDMAN and the 1979 Bob Fosse classic have a past-his-prime figure (actor in BIRDMAN, director in JAZZ) laying it all on the line for a production that's a culmination of his life's work, a vindication of his existence, a middle-finger response to those critics and contemporaries who doubted and dismissed him.
first moments on the big screen in Ron Howard's NIGHT SHIFT back in 1982, it was obvious that Keaton was a star. But in walking away from BATMAN FOREVER because he thought the script was terrible and didn't want to do it without Tim Burton, he chose integrity over money, and the momentum was never the same. He never became a pariah, but at the same time, Hollywood never seemed sure of him after that. Though he had some hits (1993's MY LIFE, 1996's MULTIPLICITY) and shined in ensemble pieces (1997's JACKIE BROWN), Keaton stepped back after 1998's JACK FROST and worked very sparingly throughout the next decade, with a Golden Globe-nominated performance in the 2002 HBO film LIVE FROM BAGHDAD, a couple of straight-to-video titles and a minor hit with the 2005 horror film WHITE NOISE. To a certain demographic, he's probably best known as the voice of Chick Hicks in the CARS franchise, but in recent years, Keaton has focused on smaller films like 2006's Don DeLillo-scripted GAME 6 and his own little-seen 2008 directing effort THE MERRY GENTLEMAN, while popping up in things like 2005's HERBIE: FULLY LOADED or this year's ROBOCOP remake and NEED FOR SPEED when he has a need for money. It was probably Keaton's scene-stealing supporting turn in the 2010 Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy THE OTHER GUYS, as a beleaguered, TLC-referencing police captain forced to take a second job at Bed Bath & Beyond because he "has a kid at NYU who wants to explore his bisexuality and become a DJ," that reminded audiences of just how funny he could be. But he's a terrific serious actor as well, even though that's mostly been demonstrated by his playing villains in 1990's PACIFIC HEIGHTS and 1998's DESPERATE MEASURES. Compared to the height of his 1980s fame, the now-63-year-old Keaton was pretty much off the radar pre-BIRDMAN, but perhaps he's always been the kind of actor who wouldn't be fully appreciated until he was older. Make no mistake: this is the role of Keaton's career.