Published on December 28th, 2014 | by Allan Brown0
Movie Review: Birdman (2015)
Running Time: 119 mins
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Emma Stone
From Mexican writer/producer/director and all-around film-making extraordinaire; Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros, Babel), comes what is perhaps one of the most ambitious, intelligent and accomplished Hollywood satires ever to be committed to celluloid. So deprecating of the self-obsessed Hollywood culture it is, you’ll wonder how it ever got financed.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a man who once delighted cinema audiences with his crime fighting escapades as the iconic feathered superhero; Birdman, now tries to reboot his failing career by directing and staring in the ambitious Broadway play; “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.
Riggan on the one hand longs for the glory days of Birdman, but on the other, wants to prove the critics wrong, showing them he is a credible artist and not just a popcorn celebrity.
As the opening night draws ever closer and rehearsals intensify, the real drama heats up backstage when the show’s principle lead is left hospitalised. In his place comes dramatic Thespian method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who steps in to save the day. But what first feels like nothing short of a miracle, quickly turns into another headache for Riggan in what fast becomes a pantheon of chaos.
One of the most ambitious, intelligent and accomplished Hollywood satires ever to be committed to celluloid
As he runs to catch up with the now runaway train that is the production, Riggan tirelessly wrestles with the mental formation of his Birdman alter-ego, his theatre nemesis Mike Shiner, his young straight out of rehab daughter; Sam (Emma Stone) and the dark cloud of the New York Broadway critic Tabitha, who can make or break a production, and career, with little more than a few words.
At its core, Birdman is about how life and art are interlinked, what it means to be truly appreciated, relevant and socially accepted in the cut-throat world of show business, and asks does it really bring happiness?
Themes of popularity vs. reputation, Cinema vs. Stage, celebrity and social criticism all come under the cosh as Alejandro González Iñárritu meticulously dissects all strands of art culture, before our very eyes. Mike (Norton) unloads about how fake everyone is and who is most passionate and real on stage , a juxtaposition for a man who can get it up on stage in front of a full house, but cant in the REAL world. He continues by stating movie audiences with their insatiable demand for anything with the depth of a cartoon strip, care only for shoot-outs and superheroes and are therefore, nothing more than morons. While Sam (Stone) tries to get her father to open his eyes and face facts, telling him how theatre audiences are just middle class white people who care only for what coffee shop they will be attending after the show, and what cake they will order. Birdman balances these ideas and themes beautifully and delivers them unprecedented satirical verbosity.
One of the finest collaborative acting ensembles I have ever witnessed on screen
A poignant moment comes when Sam explains with the use of a toilet roll, that the 150 dots present on each square of the roll represent 100’000 years in the history of the Earth. Therefore, we humans only represent one square on the whole role. This really hits home, putting into perspective not only for the characters, but also the audience, showing just how self-obsessed and arrogant we all are in the grand scheme of things. It symbolises that if we humans are as fragile and insignificant in the history of our planet, then so too is art, because in the end, we are only as important and significant as we claim ourselves to be.
The collective talent on screen do not miss a beat, each feeding of the others energy, generating one of the finest collaborative acting ensembles I have ever witnessed on screen, they really are on fire. The Intellectual context (especially the dialogue) is an absolute triumph that is underpinned by an excellent ever present jazz soundtrack that plays as much a character as the cast itself.
Keaton is truly mesmerising in the lead role. His performance swings from utter desperation to enragement, from bewilderment to unbridled passion, showcasing all the colours of Keaton’s acting range, in what truly is his finest performance to date. Norton offers an equalling transfixing portrayal, and although his character Mike is an annoying know it all, he radiates an intelligence and passion crucial for his role. The rest of Birdman’s fine cast include; Zach Galifianakis who impresses in a more serious dramatic performance as Riggan’s lawyer and business partner, Emma Stone who often steals the show in a strong yet intimate portrayal as Riggan’s ex-drug-addict daughter Sam. She is the voice of reason and the conciseness of the film, always grounded and stable in her honest and poignant views. Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough also all turn in supreme performances, elevating the film into one cinematic master class in acting.
The film adopts the ‘one continues shot’ technique, something that has been showcased in other pictures such as ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Place Beyond the Pines‘ with impressive results. However, where the previously mentioned only adopted the technique for an opening sequence, here Alejandro uses the method for the entire film. Instead of cutting between characters using various camera angles, here the camera glides to them, taking on a life of its own. Floating down hallways and staircases without cutting is an experience that feels both exhilarating and truly intimate, and while post-production trickery has clearly been used to pull off such a feat, it is utterly seamless, giving the sensation of being right in the moment as the drama unfolds before your very eyes.
Summary: Birdman is not only an exhilarating and riotous experience, but also an unmistakable crowning achievement on every artistic level.