The new TV spot for Birdman or The Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance is here. Much like Christmas hitting stores months before Thanksgiving, it’s only September and already we’re wading knee-deep into Oscar season. The latest from Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) is topping a lot of prediction lists, especially where its lead actor, Michael Keaton, is concerned.
As is clear from the TV Spot and the two previously released trailers, Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, an aged film star most well-known for his portrayal of the superhero Birdman. Now decades later, Riggan is attempting to restart his career by staging a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, a show that he has written, directed and stars in.
All the while, Riggan’s own ego personified as a deep throated voiceover nudges the actor more and more toward a full-blown psychotic break. The film is clearly dark, but also deeply comedic, a type of role that Michael Keaton is particularly adept at playing (as proof, anyone who hasn’t seen Beetlejuice should immediately watch it again as soon as they’re done reading this article).
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Iñárritu bust onto the scene with his 2000 film Amores Perros. He quickly followed that up with 21 Grams and Babel in 2003 and 2006, the first of those earned acting nods for two of his leads, Benecio Del Toro and Naomi Watts, while Babel garnered Iñárritu himself a nod for directing (he was the first Mexican director to be nominated). Already, this latest film is receiving some pretty high praise, as well.
Much like Aronofsky’s The Wrestler or Black Swan, Iñárritu is using some pitch-perfect casting to drive his film. The actor and the character have an eerie amount in common with each other. For the past ten years Keaton, much like Riggan Thompson, has been largely absent from any major leading roles, having appeared in Toy Story 3, Robocop, Need For Speed, and others, but exclusively in supporting roles. Gone are the days when Michael Keaton was considered enough of a box office draw to carry a film entirely on his own. And even longer gone are the days when Keaton was the first Batman that many of us ever saw on the big screen.
He was Batman for the first two films of the original franchise, and is typically considered to be the best of the lot. But Keaton wasn’t just Batman, he was all cinematic super heroes, because there were no others at the time. In 1989, the Reeves Superman franchise was two years ended and there was nothing else. It was just Keaton, holding the torch, protecting Gotham from Nicholson and DeVito and leading the way for all the subsequent bat-people, web-slingers, supermen, mutants, and Norse gods to come.
This is the sort of role that only Keaton can play and the type of role that the Academy loves. So, if Oscar prognosticators are right, come February, Keaton might very well be standing alone once again.
Birdman hits theaters on October 17th, 2014.