First and foremost, Birdman is one of the most ambitious and original films I have seen in recent years. It’s not only a satire on modern showbiz, but a surreal and hypnotic adventure that only geniuses like Alejandro G. Inarritu could conjure up.
The film follows Riggan Thomspon (Michael Keaton), an actor who made his career starring as the superhero Birdman in a series of films. As his career has fallen on hard times, Riggan decides to mount a comeback with a Broadway production. He hopes to show his critics that he does have genuine creative talent, and to prove to the world he’s not just another faded movie star.
Quite simply, there isn’t any film out there like Birdman. The whole film is constructed to appear as one continuous shot. The lack of cuts captures the dynamics of reality, as continuous and never-ending. This unusual technique makes us feel as though we are literally following the action, and involved with the unfolding events. The film immerses us into Riggan’s various endeavours, which includes of course his Broadway production, but also his family problems and a battle with his own fragile psyche.
Although not entirely clear, it appears Riggan has deluded himself with the belief he actually possesses the superpowers of his character. He is haunted by the spectre of Birdman, who torments him both psychologically and visually. Is this just a man suffering from some serious psychological issues, or is Riggan really experiencing these mystical occurrences? There is little evidence to suggest either assumptions are wrong, so it is completely open to interpretation. The film is an engaging exercise in magical realism.
Birdman has a phenomenal cast and Keaton is perfect for the role of Riggan. It was clearly Inarritu’s intention of satirically reflecting the image of Keaton himself, as he is an actor who is primarily known for portraying a superhero, and Birdman marks his creative intent and return to the spotlight.
Edward Norton portrays Mike Skinner, an acclaimed Broadway actor which contrasts with Riggan’s Hollywood background. Mike is an egomaniac who constantly veers for control of Riggan’s show, driven by his obsession to make the performance as real possible. Once again, the character is arguably a self-parody. There is no doubt that Norton is a great actor, but he has a reputation for being difficult to work with on set. So, the film’s self-referential nature is one of its greatest strengths. It thrives in its meta-narrative and at times, it’s almost too proud of itself. But Birdman celebrates cinema and the artistry within acting and directing.
Alongside the film’s black comedy and the characters’ various mishaps, Birdman has a very empathetic tone. But the film is not too self-pitying of the seductions of money and fame. Riggan’s daughter Sam Thompson (Emma Stone), represents some of the consequences of fame. She’s a recovering drug addict and has an estranged relationship with her father as a result of his career. It’s a much more challenging and bleaker role for Stone that definitely sees her out of her comfort zone. It was also interesting to see Zach Galifianakis in a serious role, departing from his comedic roots.
Birdman is a unique, strange and a picturesque film which relishes in unpredictability and quirky humour. It’s a brilliant film, visually sharp with an elite cast. Ultimately, it’s a grand affair, celebrating cinema in all its glory.
Quoted: “How did we end up here? This place is horrible. Smells like balls. We don’t belong here.”
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Writers: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Stars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts,
Distributor: 20th Century Fox (UK)
Run Time: 119 min