In Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Michael Keaton pours all of Batman's simmering disquietude into a different form: that of Riggan Thomson, a has-been actor who hopes to reclaim his reputation by staging an ambitious Broadway show, an adaptation -- one he's written himself -- of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Things aren't going so well, and Riggan's daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), has just been sprung from rehab and spends her days being bitchy at the world, and at him.
Those are all problems that Riggan perceives and addresses in some fashion, but there are even bigger ones that he doesn't: The movie character that made him famous, a superhero costumed in a breastplate of molded feathers and a beaked mask -- the Birdman of the title -- has been taunting him in a shadowy monotone that actually sounds like Christian Bale's Batman, pestering Riggan to admit that his theater project, not to mention his whole life, is a sham.
Have I mentioned that this psychically distressing apparition may also have vested Riggan with the power to move objects, Carrie-like, with his mind? There's a lot going on in Birdman, though the somewhat harsh truth is that Riggan's agitation and torment are really just an excuse for the pyrotechnics of the filmmaking. Its novelty: The film appears to consist of a single long take, though Iñárritu and DP Emmanuel Lubezki have done some subtle piecing-together. Birdman's proficiency, the mechanically fluid kind, works against it in some ways. But none of that diminishes what Keaton does. His Riggan is like a grizzled nerve ending, frayed and whiskery but alive.