This year will see the release of two different films in which older actors play more tragic and washed-up versions of themselves. In Ari Folman's The Congress, Robin Wright (The Princess Bride) plays an out-of-work actress who sells the rights to her digital image to a movie studio in exchange for a large sum of money. In Birdman, the surreal new drama from Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), Michael Keaton stars as another aging actor whose career has sharply declined since his younger days of playing a famous on-screen superhero.
Keaton's character, Riggan Thompson decides to put together a broadway play - an adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - in order to put his life, his career and his family back on track. The film also stars Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough.
The trailers for Birdman have been pretty insane, showing Riggan calling down fire from the heavens as part of his elaborate fantasy and wrestling with a mostly-naked Norton. The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival this week and received glowing praise from critics. Check out some selections of what reviewers had to say about Birdman below.
Daily Telegraph - Robbie Collin:
"'Birdman' isn’t much like anything else at all. Think 'Black Swan' directed by Mel Brooks and you’re in the vicinity, but only just... This is a phenomenal start to this year’s Mostra: grand, spectacular, star-powered cinema that makes us ask anew what cinema is for. Call it a Dark Knight of the soul."
Variety - Peter Debruge:
"'Birdman' offers by far the most fascinating meta-deconstruction of an actor’s ego since 'Being John Malkovich,' and one that leaves no room for vanity... Inarritu’s approach is mind-boggling in its complexity, nearly as demanding on [cinematographer Emmanuel] Lubezki as 'Gravity' must have been... It’s all one big magic trick, one designed to remind how much actors give to their art even as it disguises the layers of work that go into it."
Screen Daily - Mark Adams:
"If Michael Keaton is very much the moving, complex and troubled face of 'Birdman,' there is no getting away from the sheer polish and precision that Alejandro González Iñárritu has brought to the film. The pure sense of control – working in beautiful tandem with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki – is astounding, with the film likely to feature strongly when awards are being handed out."
Hollywood Reporter - Todd McCarthy:
"'Birdman' flies very, very high. Intense emotional currents and the jagged feelings of volatile actors are turned loose to raucous dramatic and darkly comedic effect in one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone's ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement."
TheWrap - Alonso Duralde:
"Putting aside [its] baseless and infantile loathing of the critic class, 'Birdman' is an often intelligent and unpredictable look at actors, loving their spontaneity and creativity glossing over their emotional needs and volatility. Riggan is so consumed with self-doubt that he often hears the voice of Birdman in his head, telling him to abandon this artsy-fartsy stage business so he can return to the screen for the 'apocalyptic pornography' that global audiences crave."
Time Out - Cath Clarke
"We know Iñárritu has a dark side (just look at his previous films like ‘Amores Perros’ and ‘Babel'), and it's not entirely hidden here. Life is disappointing, his film is saying (it opens with a Carver quote, ‘Did you get what you wanted out of life?'). But it's also beautiful and, at times, unexpected. This film does real justice to that idea: it's dazzling and rambling, intimate and sprawling, and it's carried along by an infectious, off-the-cuff jazz score. As soon as it ends, you'll be dying to fly with it again."
Birdman has received particular praise for its cinematography and editing, since a combination of clever staging and visual trickery come together to create the illusion of a single, continuous real-time take, even as the action spans both days and miles. Composer Antonio Sanchez was also highly praised by his chaotic jazz score (at one point the frenetic drummer is actually caught on camera as part of the movie's running thread of meta-humor). For moviegoers who are looking for something a little bit weird to watch this fall, Birdman definitely sounds like it's worth seeing at least once.
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance opens in U.S. theaters on October 17th, 2014.