Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a ferocious seriocomic spiral certain to secure a Best Actor nomination for Michael Keaton, is unfortunately more preoccupied with tweaking Hollywood conventions than entertaining its audience. As a result, I'm at odds with many of the nation's critics who have heralded this curiosity from writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu as one of the year's best. I can't even declare Birdman to be 2014's best film about the art of making art—that would be Mr. Turner (a biopic of eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner), which will come to Boise in late December. Inarritu, who so expertly plumbed the sinkholes of the human experience in 2003's 21 Grams, 2006's Babel and 2010's Biutiful (all of which had actors who received Oscar nods), disappointingly chose to play a Tinseltown parlor game in Birdman, poking at Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Renner, Meg Ryan, Justin Bieber and Robert Downey Jr. in the script. I have little doubt that Hollywood elite are chuckling at Birdman's inside-the-velvet-rope humor, but the backstage drama distances the audience from what is otherwise a capable storyline.
However, the film is stylish to a fault and deserving of high praise for its technical wonder, as well as for Keaton's performance—easily the best of his career. Keaton plays Riggan Thomas, a once-popular actor who played iconic superhero The Birdman, a joke that is about three layers too-contrived. Thomas is trying to revive his one-note career by mounting a Broadway play. Inarritu surrounds Thomas with good-looking Broadway co-stars (Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough), a good-looking daughter (Emma Stone), a good-looking ex-wife (Amy Ryan) and even a good-looking critic (Lindsay Duncan). With Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis added to the mix, there's a lot to chew on. The real stars however are Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki as they swing, sweep and swoop their camra lens across some magnificent New York City landscapes. I loved the movie's technology and Keaton is great, but Birdman's story left me up in the air.