Keaton’s latest film strikes the perfect balance in inspiring tale

Is it possible to be both popular and prestigious in Hollywood? And what does success mean? Ticket sales, public adoration, industry awards?

Birdman is almost certainly guaranteed the latter, already nabbing more nominations than any other movie at this year’s Golden Globes. This dark, introspective and ferocious comedy from Alejandro González Iñárritu explores the confused nature of the celebrity machine from the perspective of ageing and typecast comic-book movie star, Riggan (a stellar Michael Keaton).

Casting himself in a Broadway play he both produces and directs, Riggan’s efforts to be taken seriously clash with his own internal doubts, given voice by his former incarnation, Birdman.

It’s an unexpected change in tone from Iñárritu, yet it’s hard to think of a director who could do this self-analysing, industry-scrutinising film better. Iñárritu peels back the layers conflict between the artistic, the worthwhile and the popular.

But Birdman is not as pretentious as it sounds. Riggan’s perspective is Iñárritu’s ally here, and the director is sympathetic to the washed-up celebrity’s desire for validation, enhanced by creative camera work that makes his razor-edged comedy appear as if filmed in a single take. Clashing egos and rapid verbal sparring rival Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Moneyball) at his best.

In Birdman, Iñárritu finds that perfect balance Riggan cannot, creating both meaningful and fiercely entertaining cinema.