Movie review: No superheroes, but "Birdman" is a near-perfect experience

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Let's get this out of the way and save some easily confused people some disappointment. "Birdman" is not a superhero movie. If you want a superhero movie, um, wait like three weeks. There's probably a new one coming out.

"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" - the film's official full title - is quite possibly the best movie of the year (and certainly one of the most difficult to define). It's funny. It's tragic. It's so meta.

It would be worth watching for the performances alone. It would be worth watching for the wild filmmaking stunt it pulls off alone. Those things together make for a near-perfect movie experience.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor known for playing the iconic movie superhero Birdman who is now trying to revive his artistic career on the Broadway stage.

Riggan writes and stars in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short, and we are treated to a first-person perspective of an artist on the verge of a meltdown.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros," "Babel") crafts the high-water mark of his career with a lot of talented help. For one thing, this is one of the best ensemble performances of all time.

Edward Norton is unhinged, hilarious and perfect as a preening uber-method actor who drinks real gin on stage ("Yes, I'm drunk. Why aren't you drunk? This is fucking Carver!"). Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough have a blast within the "insecure actress" cliché. Emma Stone gives the performance of her young career as Riggan's rehabbing daughter.

But, oh my god, Michael Keaton. Despite the parallels with his post-"Batman" life, Keaton swears that he doesn't relate to Riggan, and I believe him. I also believe that this is one of the wildest, funniest, most heartbreaking and purest performances on film. Ever.

Meanwhile, Iñárritu and his director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki pull off an unbelievable stunt, presenting the movie in a single shot - or at least covering the seams of cuts to make it appear this way. In my book, Lubezki is the greatest cinematographer ever, having shot "Children of Men," "Gravity," "The Tree of Life," etc. He pulls this off like it's nothing.

Final verdict: "Birdman" is high in the running for my best film of the year. Just don't expect superheroes.


Opens Friday

4 stars out of 4