"Birdman" has taken flight, and it could be some time before the Alejandro G. Inarritu-directed black comedy comes back down to earth. The film, which stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up superhero actor struggling to mount a Broadway play, opened the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday to stellar reviews and looks poised to be an awards-season player.
Here's a spoiler-free roundup of what the critics are saying:
—Variety's Peter Debruge writes, "In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro G. Inarritu's fifth and best feature provides the delirious coup de grace — a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton's career."
Debruge continues: "'Birdman' features at least a dozen of the year's most electrifying onscreen moments .... Most films would be lucky to have one scene as indelible as any of these, and frankly, it's a thrill to see Inarritu back from whatever dark, dreary place begat '21 Grams,' 'Babel' and 'Biutiful.'"
—The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says, "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."
Keaton "soars perhaps higher than ever" among an "exemplary" cast that also includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts, McCarthy says; he also gives kudos to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki ("Gravity"), whose work is "lucid and controlled" as well as "bold, propulsive, even raw at times."
—The Wrap's Alonso Duralde calls "Birdman" a "compelling tale that's a backstage drama, a character piece, a stab at magical realism, and much more." Inarritu displays "a previously untapped sense of humor," Duralde says, and if the movie's more fantastical elements "often border on the precious," the filmmaker and his cowriters (Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo) "are mostly successful at circling around and making them pay off at the end."
—The Telegraph's Robbie Collin, who declares "Birdman" a "beautiful, hilarious, film-defying film," says, "There are streaks of '42nd Street,' 'The Producers' and 'Sunset Boulevard' here, but otherwise, '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."
He adds that it's "the role of Keaton's career," and the actor "could hardly be better supported" by his castmates.
—Screen Daily's Mark Adams echoes his peers, calling "Birdman" a "magnificent and enthralling film that fits into no easy genre bracket … a technical tour de force, a beautifully performed and smartly scripted black comedy that will leave its audience keen to head back for more."
Keaton is "superb," Adams says, and there is "no getting away from the sheer polish and precision that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has brought to the film."
"Birdman" hits theaters Oct. 17.
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