Edward Norton received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Mike Shiner in Birdman.
Although from the start Norton suggests what likely will be part of the problem with Mike right from the start, but does not forget to show what Mike will bring to the play. Norton does a particularly fantastic job of showing the way Mike goes in and out of the play with his performance. Not simply in the way he's projecting his voice as he should, although he does that well, but also how in the moment of the play Norton only portrays honest emotions as Mike is in character, and Norton does a great job of being in character in character. Even past that though Norton is terrific in portraying the way Mike is in his zone of control when talking about the play with Riggan going even so far as to constantly make suggestions for a bit of rewriting. Norton is impeccable in realizing the method of Mike as he brings such an energy and even joy as he knocking back and forth ideas with Riggan, and we see Mike exactly where he belongs. Norton is wonderfully in the moment and it's a great scene as Norton basically allows Mike to live up to his reputation.
Norton treads a very fine line in his portrayal of Mike off stage because if he went too far with the egotistical actor routine he could become caricature. Norton though is right on the mark with his performance though being enjoyably smug in his whole manner as it is clear that Mike thinks Mike is God's gift to acting, and that's all there is to it. Norton is especially good in the way he kinda amplifies the ego whenever Mike goes off on an idea and seems to get one over on Riggan. Norton is entertaining as he basically builds up the level of self-indulgence of Mike in given scene before there is eventually something to take him down a notch. One such moment is when Mike is going on off basically his artistic superiority to Riggan before being completely unrecognized as Riggan is asked by a fan for a picture. Norton's very good in his subtle reaction of Mike kinda metaphorically biting his tongue down when he's hit with a bit of reality, as Mike is the sort of man who would not even allow himself to be seen as though he cares, even though he does.
What Norton does so well though is make sense of the madness of his character as he seems somewhat random in the way he flies off the handle sometimes, only to be rather reasonable all of the sudden. Norton makes this volatility work though as an essential part of who Mike is. He makes sense of the sudden bursts of intolerably along with genius all seem to fit into a single whole without at all seeming absurd. Norton's performance interestingly enough, considering his other two male co-stars are comedians, is probably the most comedic performance in the film which is funny all by itself by Norton's often dramatic work like in his previous two Oscar nominations. Norton though succeeds in finding plenty of humor out his character with every one of his odd ball scenes, especially one where he comes with having sex onstage with his co-star/soon to be former girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts). Norton is outstanding because he is hilarious in portraying the madness, yet he always remains oddly believable all the same.
Norton does have his technically most dramatic scenes with Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone) as they play game of truth or dare on top of the theater. Norton's very good here as well though as he eases back somewhat on the pretension of Mike, although he still leaves a bit there as he attempts to mentor Sam, but in these scenes gives us a Mike who's willing to let things go. Although the two scenes eventually end on a romantic I don't feel Norton and Stone have romantic chemistry. This is not a criticism, but rather the two show more of an comfort in the understanding the two are able to develop. There is a sweetness in their connection as Norton shows it not that Mike has found love, but rather a person he does not need to perform for. It is almost as though since Sam has such low self-esteem, there is no ego there to trump therefore Norton's performance suggests that Mike can kinda relax for once in his life. My only sorta reservation, I don't really have a problem with it as it works for the film, I want to make that clear, is that he is a non-entity in the third act(where the view focuses solely on Riggan) and it did not seem like Mike Shiner was quite finished. Norton nevertheless does some very memorable work here and I feel as though, just like almost every character in Birdman, there could be a whole film just about Mike Shiner.