BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
Who determines what high art is? Is it the critics who deem something as “must-see” or “a badly put together fiasco”? Or perhaps it is the audience that pays to watch? Either way high art is often in the eyes of the creator and this past awards season one film pecked away at this idea and many other notions. Soaring high above the cinematic landscape, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a movie unlike anything else you’ll see. Playing like a wicked cross between The Producers and Black Swan, there is so much more to this showbiz satire that defining it as similar to something becomes quite difficult and it floors any expectation you may have had going in. Director Alejandro González Iñáritu (Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams) with his latest feature, which received awards and critical acclaim this January, creates something truly special that will speak to you in a variety of ways about a great many things.
The film is centred on former blockbuster movie star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who is trying to adapt the Raymond Carver short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love to the stage. However in the process Riggan is haunted by the very hero he once played - Birdman - and pushed to the edge by a very troubled production. Though sounding more like a straight theatre satire, Birdman forgoes this one area of focus and gives us a sharp, often hilarious, view of the entertainment industry as a whole and the damaged actors that fill it. From the simplistic and yet brilliantly escalating drum soundtrack by Antonio Sánchez to the snake-like and prowling cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman is a sensational looking film that flys to the centre of the stage play fray and pulls no punches in it’s snappy writing and ideas.
The acting is excellent with Edward Norton as the excessive and respected method stage actor Mike Shiner and Emma Stone as Riggan’s recovering addict daughter Samantha both shining best. The support in this film is absolutely first rate with Naomi Watts as fellow actress Lesley and Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s friend/lawyer also boasting memorable turns in the film, as does Lindsay Duncan as a particularly icy theater critic Tabitha Dickinson. However, the film perches ultimately on the shoulders of Michael Keaton, who delivers an astonishing performance. Both in and out of the feathered cowl, Keaton is a tour de force and seems to send up his own career while also rebirthing it in many ways. Keaton has always been very underrated in this writer’s mind and this film showcases the man’s impeccable talent, as Riggan he gives the film many of it’s biggest laughs, compelling drama and pathos.
Birdman simply put is a well-directed masterpiece that may prove somewhat divisive among viewers, especially it’s open ending, which seems to challenge the moments of Riggan’s egotistical daydreaming throughout. However nobody can say that they have seen a film like this before, one which spreads its wings, showing off a director, cast and writers unburdened by big studios and their mainstream fads. Birdman is a film that tears apart the classifications of art by high society, what makes a mainstream movie a box office success and ultimately addresses issues of self-worth and the value of embracing your identity. However by the end of the film, you also feel to have experienced something else, an empowering feeling that this movie, contrary to dispelling the idea of magic, actually supports it. In summary, this is a film everyone should see and which deserves to be seen for years more as the satirical masterpiece that it is, and one that showcases an excellent actor at the peak of his powers. See it as soon as possible; it’s still the best film this year!
INFO: CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRITU / SCREENPLAY: ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ, NICOLÁS GIACOBONE, ARMANDO BÓ, ALEXANDER DINELARIS, JR. / STARRING: MICHAEL KEATON, EDWARD NORTON, EMMA STONE, ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, NAOMI WATTS / RELEASE DATE: MAY 4TH