Few films of recent years have had ingredients for wonder so specific as Birdman. Michael Keaton portraying a washed up, former comic book star trying to revitalise his career in an inventive script co-written and directed by the man who brought us Biutiful; the potential for amazement is through the roof and somehow, the film manages to deliver on all the hype.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) in his attempt to stage a theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love as a means of shrugging off decades of being a washed up former comic book film star, Birdman. Pressures mount as the play’s production increasingly wobbles as Thomson’s family issues come to the fore and he clashes with the ego of its co-star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Parallels to Keaton’s own career history as a successful comic book hero shrugged to the side of Hollywood popularity aside, there is much to be taken from the barebones of the story alone; as a parable of the pleasures and struggles of artistic creation, the power of the ego, the importance of family and so on- yet the joy of interpretation is not even what is most exciting about this wonderfully inventive film.
What is most striking about the film, and obvious from the first scene, is the cinematography of master shooter Emmanuel Lubezki. Lubezki shoots the film as if it is entirely one take; with actual cuts masked behind brief static shots and moments of darkness. Rather than feeling like an attempt to simply show off, like so many long take shots are, this gives the film an intimate, theatrical quality and makes for some entertaining and inventive time jump moments. Yet this masterful and genuinely awe inspiring camera work would be nothing were it not filming an immaculately neat and unique script. The less said about the finer points of the film the better, as the twisting, turning nature of the film is something that will offer each viewer something unique to focus on and enjoy. This, coupled with the magnificent percussion driven, free jazz influenced soundtrack from Antonio Sánchez makes every moment of this film a thing of beauty.
The praise being laid upon Keaton’s acting work in this film is entirely justified – as he portrays a man battling his own demons, ego and the ever increasing levels of pressure being heaps upon him from all sides. The supporting work from Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zack Galifianakis too, help make Birdman a true tour de force of acting ability, with Norton in particular delivering what is perhaps his finest and most wildly exciting role in over a decade.
With all these individual parts working in such uniquely brilliant ways, it would be easy for Birdman to feel more like a daring experiment than a successful film outright, yet this is not the case. That Iñárritu is able to so cohesively meld all the singularly terrific elements into a whole that manages to be greater than the sum of its parts is nothing short of a masterstroke, and solidifies his position as one of cinema’s most exciting post-millennial voices. There is much to be analysed and discussed about Birdman’s merits in acting, direction, shooting, script and score, yet it is its deeper themes of ego, artistic creation and personal growth that will keep it being analysed by film students for years to come.
For all the hype and all the superlative praise Birdman has already received, the film manages to transcend this to exist as a truly singular, wonderful entity. Charming, bizarre, funny and moving, Birdman throws down the gauntlet for cinema in 2015, and sets a very high bar for the rest of the year.
Review score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 1 Hour and 59 Minutes
Birdman opens nationally on January 15, 2015
Birdman was among the big winners at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, a full list of winners can be found HERE