Review – Birdman

Poster for 2014 dramedy Birdman

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 1st January 2015
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan
Synopsis: A washed-up actor tries to win back credibility by mounting an ambitious Broadway play.

 

Of all of the Oscars 2015 hopefuls released in January, perhaps the strangest is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s offbeat comedydrama Birdman. Alongside The Grand Budapest Hotel, it received the most Oscar nominations of any film this year. Featuring an ambitious one-take structure and an ensemble cast of acting greats, this is a film like no other that will be released this year.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor hoping to regain credibility by swapping his role as the eponymous superhero for a literary adaptation on Broadway, starring first-time actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) and arrogant critical darling Mike (Edward Norton). As the production skids towards disaster, Riggan must deal with his fresh-from-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), frazzled lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and the ever watchful eye of hard-nosed critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan).

 Birdman is more of an experiment in artifice than a work of narrative cinema. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has elected to present the film as if it is a single take, with the occasional cuts hidden by the constant momentum of the roving camera. This gives the film an incredibly kinetic feel, aided by the occasional intrusion of drums into the score, blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, providing Birdman with a very deliberate tempo and consistent momentum.

| "Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige."

The casting of Michael Keaton is incredibly clever, given that Birdman is essentially his version of the play that his character is mounting. This is his return to arty credibility in the wake of superhero success with Tim Burton’s Batman films. It’s a terrific performance, in which Keaton is remarkably willing to allow himself look pathetic and aged as he becomes an increasingly unhinged character. Birdman rests on his shoulders – and he carries it well.

Elsewhere, both Edward Norton and Emma Stone shine with truly excellent performances, more than worthy of their Oscar nominations. Both are served nicely by Iñárritu’s script, getting real highlights in their interactions with Keaton. Norton, especially, is immensely believable as a flamboyant, overrated stage actor with a dislike for the cinema.

But the true triumph of Birdman is in what lurks beneath all of the artifice and theatricality. There’s a real heart to the film, which has plenty to say about celebrity, success and the desire to be noticed in a world where everyone is fighting for their own little bit of spotlight. There’s also some poisonous criticism of journalism, both in the form of the vapid reporters who interview Riggan and the sinister cynicism of Lindsay Duncan’s cameoing critic.

| "You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter."

The beauty of Birdman is that, despite all of its trickery, it never forgets to logically tell the underlying story at its heart. For all of Iñárritu’s ballyhoo, it’s the performers that really sell the story, with the razor-sharp dialogue proving endlessly quotable and utterly devastating. This is a film with plenty of surface, but it’s certainly worth looking at what’s going on underneath.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Sweeping the nominations as Oscars 2015’s annual offbeat choice, Birdman is a terrifically inventive work of cinema that genuinely attempts to do something with the craft.

Keaton, Stone and Norton provide a central trio of blistering performances, which could’ve grabbed all of the awards in any other year, aided by Iñárritu’s whip-smart dialogue.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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