(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has managed to make something truly beautiful with Birdman. The cinematography is a marvel, the performances are mesmerizing and the story is profound. Birdman is an absolute must see for any art fan!
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance tells the story of Riggan Thomson, who is long past his 15 minutes of fame. Ever popular while playing the superhero Birdman, he is now struggling to identify himself without the fame and fortune. In a desperate attempt at recreating his lime light, he has thrown together a Broadway show. Is this really what he wants? To make true art? Or is he just making a last ditch effort to see his name amongst the stars? It is a film about art. It is a film about love and emotion and passion. It dives deep into the soul of Keaton’s character to paint a clear picture of the hardships that follow the rise to fame and its inevitable loss. It doesn’t shy away from anything and reveals all in its rawest form. It is a far cry from the superhero film it was made out to be and will more than likely end up disappointing those that came in believing it to be so. But for those willing to dig a bit deeper, this film is the epitome of the medium.
During rehearsal for his Broadway adaptation of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” Thomson finds himself dissatisfied with the cast he has thrown together. In a last ditch effort to save his play he hires critical stage darling Mike Shiner, played by Edward Norton. He immediately falls in love the Shiner’s commitment to the role and the sincerity with which he portrays it. This instant chemistry only lasts as long as the next rehearsal, in which Mike goes on a drunken rant mid scene. Seemingly ruining Thomson’s shot at redemption. In turn this causes him to get caught up in self-doubt and fear, forcing him to question his life choices, the relationships he has fostered over the years and how he views himself.
Birdman is chock full of academy worthy performances. Any member of the supporting cast could have easily gotten a nod and you really couldn’t argue against them. Inarritu has developed the perfect blend of true to life character drama and thematic resonance that is bound to keep those willing to give the film a shot enthralled from start to finish. Edward Norton’s Mike Shiner finds himself more comfortable on stage than he does in reality. Thomson’s estranged daughter (Emma Stone) is coping with an absent father suddenly trying to be a part of her life. His wife goes back and forth between loving and loathing. With Birdman Inarritu has managed to convey not just one, but many convincing journeys of self-discovery in a world often devoid of compassion.
The play within the film is an allegory to the struggles Riggan contends with throughout his personal narrative. The ups and downs of his stage role coincide with the events of his reality. As issues arise within the production more questions about who Riggan is also begin to pop up. That is where Inarritu’s incredible directorial vision comes in to play. According to the trailers, Birdman seems like a contemporary riff on the superhero fad pervading Hollywood. Those that fell for that ploy will be severely disappointed. The Birdman character is rarely in the film, instead he acts as the devil atop Riggan’s shoulder. His constant whispers gently pushing Thomson back toward the world of greed and superficiality that he was once so proud to be a part of. The inner struggle and the way it is portrayed throughout is truly incredible and makes for some powerful imagery.
Watching Riggan walk down the street only to have a giant metal bird crash through a building on top of him is a little jarring, but once you realize that it’s his old mindset trying to impose itself on the literal world it turns into something else entirely. The fact that Keaton himself is known for an iconic superhero role makes for an interesting analogue to the already stellar tale being told. One scene that sees Riggan confront a particularly nasty critic (Lindsay Duncan) is especially potent. During their heated back and forth she calls him a no-talent hack, only to have Keaton respond with one of the best acted monologues I’ve seen in my movie watching career.
The film is also expertly written and wonderfully shot. The film takes place almost entirely within the theater complex. Inarritu employs long, sweeping shots that follow the actors as they traverse the various areas of the building. The way he transitions from one character to another is so seamless you wouldn’t be wrong to think the movie was filmed in one extended take. One stand out sequence involves Riggan taking a smoke break only to find himself locked outside of the theater without any clothing. The camera follows him through the backstage area, to the alley behind the building and then all the way through Times Square and back on stage without ever taking him out of frame. The film is a cinematic masterpiece.
Every character gets their time to shine and nobody feels underdeveloped. There are a few plot threads left hanging but I could easily overlook that, which is a testament to how powerful and well portrayed Riggan’s story is. From Zach Galifianakis to Naomi Watts, each character portrays a different aspect of the overall theme of passion, love and life. Birdman is expertly crafted in every facet of its production. From the script to the photography, Inarritu handled everything with a masterful touch. Keaton gives us the performance of his life in a role that is bound to go down as one of the greats. For cinephiles or even general art fans, Birdman is a step forward for the medium and deserves all of the attention it gets and then some.
Overall I give this film 9.5/10