The first film of the New Year turns out to be this quirky and offbeat offering from Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu, a riveting slice of cinema that’s actually all about live theatre and the essential differences between the two media. It’s heartening to see a packed screening on opening night for what is essentially a highly experimental work, one that has as many questions as it does answers and one moreover that is cleverly edited to look like one continuous tracking shot.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is undergoing a long dark night of the soul. Formally the star of a series of successful superhero movies, he is attempting to rejuvenate his career by appearing on Broadway in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story which he has written himself. When his lead actor is injured the night before the first performance, he manages to acquire the services of Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) a conceited method actor who is as destructive as he is accomplished. Meanwhile Riggan juggles the affections of his daughter cum personal assistant, Sam (Emma Stone), his lover Laura (Andrea Riseborough) his lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) and his manager, Jake (an unusually retrained Zach Galifiniakis.) But the spectre of his previous screen persona still haunts him and he is having terrible trouble differentiating between what is real and what is imaginary…

The film is never less than captivating and from time to time takes off on inspired flights of fantasy that dazzle the eye and stir the imagination. Keaton is a revelation in the lead role, giving the audience insights into the mind of a man who is constantly on the edge of insanity (his previous incarnation as Tim Burton’s Batman gives the story added poignancy) and the script comes laced with a vein of dark humour that never shrinks from savaging the very industry that has nurtured it. If the other films of 2015 are in this league it’s going to be a fine year indeed.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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