Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Original Release Date: October 17th, 2014
Birdman is a very dark dramedy directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrituu starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson. The character, an actor, who made a name through the superhero Birdman in a series of blockbuster films but is now a c-lister trying to create something “meaningful” through Broadway. This meta-aspect and its relation to Keaton’s career raise the stakes even more so. The movie could work as a biography. But it’s much more than that
The difference between our Keaton and his role as Riggan is that he’s absolutely insane. The film has a hefty dose of the bizarre and surreal. Riggan floats in the air as he meditates in and uses telekinesis in his spare time. There is also the brilliant struggle of the jerk demonic voice of Birdman himself in his head which makes the struggle he faces all the more hilariously intense.
The film defies expectations and plays with the audience at several turns. Plot lines are interspersed with shocking twists whether the effect is one of laughter or gasping. The play “doesn’t go as planned” and it feels as if one is right along with the in-film audience as they are surprised. This diegeticness also comes about brilliantly through the groovy jazz score as it snakes its way constantly in the background. Several times the drum hits are shown to be coming from a drummer around a corner and the volume adjusts. Little touches like this exemplify Inarritu’s delicate touch.
But as a character says I’ve just been using in my review “labels, labels, labels” as in Broadway. This is a movie about intricate characters that make Riggan seem normal. Zach Galifinakis does a great dramatic turn as his high maintenance assistant Jake. Emma Stone is his just-out-of rehab daughter. Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as his equally distressed co-stars Lesley and Laura. Each cast member delivers an incredible performance and there’s some great interplay between each of them. No one is really a “minor character” in this.
But the absolute shining star who brings a nuance to match Keaton’s is Edward Norton as Broadway mega star Mike Shiner. Norton is here with his often-used antagonistic charisma which correlates with Shiner. Shiner seeks to tell stories of “complex human emotion” and ridicules Keaton for his career choices. This may perhaps this is another meta-critique of modern blockbuster cinema. The friction between the two makes for some of the best scenes in the film.
Each moment is magnified by the fact that the camera is constantly moving. The unique cinematography is accomplished by having a camera “float” close up to the actors at all times. Like the music there is never a second of “visual silence.” However, this is one of the small negatives from making the film perfect. The fact that it zooms so in on Keaton’s face can make things uncomfortably claustrophobic at times.
The other point of detraction is some of the reality bending moments towards the end. It’s massively cool for the film to acknowledge the Avengers , Robert Downey Jr, and the popcorn-like existing within its world. But when a moment happens latter where Riggan imagines what it’d be like to be in a modern blockbuster the CGI is not the best. This may also be intentional but it’s jarring when compared to the rest of the expert visual production.
Overall most of the laughs in Birdman come from how pathetic and backstabbing its characters are. It’s so depressing one can’t help but snicker. But we cheer on these corrupt actors as their lives spiral out of control around them. There’s a tale of Riggan Thomson being the last of the Hollywood old guard who hasn’t sold out to do more action reboots, but its lost in a swirling darkness of confusion. This hypnotic tone makes for a compelling argument and a amazing film. 9.8 out of 10