Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis, and Andrea Riseborough
Review Written By: Michael Dalton
With the current deluge of superhero films saturating the market, for many Birdman will be the appropriate artful antidote. Early on this film takes aim at the number of quality actors tied up in superhero projects, name checking Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Renner, and Robert Downey Jr. Regarding the latter, the voice in Thomson’s head remarks, ‘That clown doesn’t have half of your talent, yet he’s making millions in that tin man get-up” This is one of many elements which makes Birdman a meditation on the industry, it is no coincidence that the first time we Thomson he is floating above the ground, meditating. The film’s characters create an open dialogue regarding the changing nature of fame, the relationship between popularity and prestige, and what it means to create and be an actor.
Edward Norton enters the film as Mike Shiner, an acclaimed Broadway star brought in at the last minute to replace an injured actor and improve the play’s chance of success. He represents the other side of the coin to Riggan Thomson’s Hollywood background. In a wonderful conversation between the two of them after Thomson apologizes for his apparent popularity, Shiner replies, ‘You think I care about popularity? Popularity is just the slutty, little cousin to prestige’ Edward Norton is terrific as the pretentious and pompous method actor, who believes that what he does is worthy and not the, ‘cultural genocide’ that is taking place in the movie business. It’s one of Norton’s best performances in years, perhaps since his Fight Club days, reminding me why he’s one of my favourite actors.
While this film has very much been sold as the Keaton comeback and is Keaton’s show, it is very much an ensemble with everybody in the cast given their chance to shine. This may also be Emma Stone’s best performance, playing Thomson’s icy daughter just out of rehab. In one scene, Stone goes on a densely written yet naturally delivered rant about her father’s insignificance both professionally and personally, noting how his lack of an online presence is tantamount to not existing. Zach Galifianakis manages to be funny in a way that is much more akin to his better, dramatic work, and not the character he’s been forced to play in every high-profile Hollywood comedy. Naoimi Watts, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseboroguh are also all fantastic in their small roles. However an argument can be made that Naoimi Watts in particular, isn't given much to do.
However the star of the show is Michael Keaton. It is a very physical performance that manages to demonstrate his entire range, sometimes in single scenes. Keaton is funny and scary, vulnerable and powerful. We root for, and feel sorry for him, yet also denounce his narcissism and vanity. It has the potential to be a career-defining role in what has the potential to be a classic film.
Visually, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki needs to win his second consecutive Oscar. The film is shot so as to appear as if the whole thing is one continuous take. Whilst this has been done before and is very much a gimmick, it has arguably never been done this well, or this naturally integrated before. The trick has the effect of giving the film a wonderful energy, and takes us into the dizzying depths of Riggan’s psyche, as we stay up days on end with him. The way the camera floats around is a delight to see and awe-inspiring if you’re a fan of the filmmaking craft, with everything also immaculately and inventively lit. Meanwhile the film has this freestyle jazz drumming score, which cascades and crashes, helping create this maddening and urgent tone.
Birdman is very much a film for film people. Those in the industry will love it because it’s about them, and those who love film will love it because of its inside jokes and flashy filmmaking. It even takes a pause to have a go at critics, with everybody who writes a review of Birdman sure to have in the back of their mind whilst writing, Riggan’s shouts that, ‘we’re just labeling’ However the result is that those outside of that bubble may be unmoved by the filmmaking skill and not amused by the cracks taken at the industry, nor interested in the discussions about it. The film does have its rather pretentious moments, however I think it is saved from being a self-indulgent, pretentious piece of exclusive filmmaking by the fact that it’s just so much fun, so crazy, so well-acted, so well-made, and potentially, quite timeless. This is a story that will always be relevant as long as there's art. However I must point out, a lot of this thematic ground and material was covered in an altogether less fussy way, in episodes of Ricky Gervais’ TV series, ‘Extras’
Summary: Nothing revelatory and potentially quite exclusive, however Birdman is the year’s best-shot film and perhaps its best performed, with the potential for classic status.
Movie Parliament Rating: MAJORITY GOVERNMENT
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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