'Birdman' Debuts at Venice to Soaring Accolades

The Michael Keaton-starring film opened to high-flying critical acclaim.

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We've spent much of the summer getting excited about Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), starting with its ambitious, exciting trailer. After opening the Venice International Film Festival last night, it appears our hopes were well-placed.

"Birdman flies very, very high," said The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, nailing that flight pun in the very first line. "The film's exhilarating originality, black comedy and tone that is at once empathetic and acidic will surely strike a strong chord with audiences looking for something fresh that will take them somewhere they haven't been before."

McCarthy raves about the "exemplary cast," and especially about Michael Keaton in the lead role as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up superhero who turns down a fourquel to his film series Birdman in favor of opening a show at the St. James Theater.

Variety's Peter Debruge also loves Keaton, but thinks that as Riggan's volatile stage partner Mike Shiner, Edward Norton comes close to taking the whole film away from him. "Revealing body and soul alike, both stars are inviting us to laugh at aspects of their real selves," he writes, "though Norton initially seems the more impressive actor, amplifying his own intense commitment to realism to absurd extremes."

Robbie Collin of The Telegraph thinks director Iñárritu's new film is closest to his 2010 Javier Bardem picture Biutiful, but that it's his most powerful since 2000's Amores Perros. "This is a phenomenal start to this year’s Mostra: grand, spectacular, star-powered cinema that makes us ask anew what cinema is for."

Over at Hitfix, Catherine Bray likes the film, but wishes the women – including Emma Stone as his daughter and personal assistant Sam – had a bit more to do. "Despite top drawer performances from [Naomi] Watts, Stone and the wonderful Amy Ryan ... none of them get to have quite as much fun as the male secondary roles," she writes with a disappointed sigh.

Though most of the reviews were flat-out raves – the Rotten Tomatoes rating is sitting at 100% at the moment – The Guardian's Xan Brooks was a lonely voice of mixed feelings. His biggest issue: that the film lacks "soul."

"There’s no doubt it makes for a jubilant ride, a galvanic first blast," Brooks writes. "But it remains a film which feels deeply thought rather than deeply felt; a brilliant technical exercise as opposed to a flesh-and-blood story."

It remains to be seen whether Birdman's reviews will be strong enough to win the Golden Lion at Venice – the festival runs until Sept. 6. The film opens stateside Oct. 17.

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