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Movie Review: Birdman

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a comeback for Michael Keaton, an ambitious masterpiece from Alejandro González Iñárritu and another cinematic breakthrough for Emmanuel Lubezki. While these comments hold some weight, Birdman also happens to be one of the most overrated films of the year.

Michael Keaton has always had that quirky, manic, unpredictable and crazy charm to him. Yet, he's never had the screen time, the art house clout or the self-referential smarts to turn in an award-winning Michael Keaton performance... until now. Much like Mickey Rourke's The WrestlerBirdman is a mirror for Keaton's story... portraying a has-been actor, who battles his former glory and attempts to recover his life in the build-up to his Broadway play's opening night.

Keaton played Batman in 1989 and Iñárritu plays on this back story in creating Birdman. While Keaton's role of essentially playing himself is wildly entertaining, it's the tip of a pyramid of excellent supporting performances from an all-star cast. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough make up a strong ensemble and help to further establish the back stage realism.

While a terrific cast and equally impressive performances, the real attraction of Birdman is the seamless cinematography from Gravity's Emmanuel Lubezki. We're given a simulated one shot film, shifting from one scene to the next like a roving unhinged camera eye. The effect is slightly eerie as we move in a continuous state of reality through claustrophobic backstage drama, but after some time - we adapt to the stream of consciousness and start to appreciate the visual artistry.

Birdman 2014

"I'm Birdman?"

This is Alejandro González Iñárritu's most ambitious undertaking after 21 GramsBiutiful and Babel, for which he also received a nomination for direction. The director's fearless take on Birdman can be applauded for breaking new ground with cinematography and commanding such a strong cast to multiple Oscar nominations for Keaton, Norton and Stone. We marvel at the style and performance, but something's missing.

When you strip away the accomplishments of the cast, cinematography and direction, you find a lot of navel-gazing, a manic script and a bevy of unlikable characters. The script's ability to muddy the waters with sign-of-our-times philosophy and inane dialogue disguises the dark heart of Birdman. While the performances hold our attention, the characters are narcissistic, self-serving and hedonistic - forcing us to sift through the muck to find scraps of humanity.

Birdman is like a comedy version of Black Swan. We're entranced by the performances, the fantasy realism and dark deluge of emotions, but the journey is so tragic and dark that we lose sight of the flickering flame of truth. Birdman flits about without lingering long enough to amount to anything substantial. We catch a feather here and another there, but it's a full flight chase, never fully connecting on an emotional or intellectual level.

This is a sharp film thanks to seemingly effortless cinematography, terrific performances and sure-footed direction, but it lacks real substance and alienates itself with its "squirrelly" characters and flurry of digital versus traditional dissonance. We want to find true meaning in the story, we want to identify with the characters... but it keeps us frustrated, clawing at the ground in vain, scratching for that grain of truth that never arrives.

The bottom line: Manic