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Stars: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

A strange, rather grim piece that brings Michael Keaton back into the limelight with one of his best performances. The film itself is, to say the least however, something of an acquired taste. And, while the cramped confines of a Broadway theatre are brilliantly captured in all their claustrophobic dinginess, it's hard to empathise with a film whose characters spend most of their time shouting expletive-filled venom at each other, most of which does little to boost the minimal plot.

To get into the film, you must accept that this is a mood piece. centring on Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a Hollywood star of the 1980s and 1990s, whose last box-office success was his ultimate appearance in the role of superhero Birdman in 1992 (the year Keaton himself made his last Batman film. Coincidence? I think not). Now he has sunk all his remaining money into a play, with himself as director and star.

Shorn of a second male lead following an accident with overhead lighting, Riggan signs on volatile maverick Mike (Norton), who drinks real gin on stage, threatens the leading lady (Watts) with real sex as they prepare for a scene where they're caught in bed by the woman's husband, and does have sex with Riggan's rehab-clean (not) daughter, played by Stone, who also gives a career-best performance.

At Riggan's side through all this is Birdman, who actually comes to life (sort of) in the closing stages, as the film threatens to go all metaphysical on us.

The film's several tracking shots through the theatre and its surrounds seem to go on forever, giving you time to muse that Riggan might carve out a more stress-free career by exploiting the telekinesis (the ability to make inanimate objects move), at which he seems to be an expert. In the end, though, the terrific performances (Norton's also very good) can't quite redeem this slow and alienating movie.

David Quinlan

USA/Canada 2014. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Technicolor/Prints by FotoKem.
119 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 3.

Review date: 27 Dec 2014