Thomson's insecurities are manifested in the appearance of his masked crime-fighting creation who continually taunts him backstage, but the beleaguered actor persists under the old adage, 'the show must go on'. Parallels between reality and fiction are nicely paired here. Keaton was the first actor to kick-start the highly lucrative Batman cinematic franchise (something which undoubtedly became an albatross around his neck) and co-star Norton has been labelled historically with the 'difficult' tag. Those meta nods also spring up elsewhere, namely in the breezy jazz bursts that punctuate many of the roving transitions in the film, often slipping from diegetic to non-diegetic sound in the same shot, where an actual drummer is revealed. But for all the technical virtuosity and fourth wall-straddling on display, it's actually the quieter moments which resonant the deepest, whether it be Norton and Riggan's PA/daughter (Emma Stone) sharing an intimate conversation on the theatre rooftop, or the main character's painful grasp at closure with his ex-wife (Amy Ryan).
Performance-wise, the film seldom puts a foot wrong. With the lines of age etched deeply in his face, Keaton has done jittery and manic before but never with this shading and fragility. He dives into the increasingly disorderly stage action and the meltdown he is suffering behind the curtains with fierce aplomb. If Keaton is the Ego then Norton is the id - a deeply narcissistic presence and borderline sociopath whose obnoxious bravado and one-upmanship threaten to torpedo the whole production. One exchange between Keaton and Norton is an incredibly accomplished Russian doll-like display of performance and had already become the scene wheeled out, ad nauseam, during awards season. Ultimately Birdman is a film more to be admired than loved. It's undeniably bold and adventurous, often loitering around the edge of genius, but it's a little too caught up in navel-gazing to ever really soar.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76