Kylie with Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Liverpool in Istanbul, Lucky Charms cereal. What do these all have in common? Well, for us they should be considered some of the greatest comebacks of all time and after viewing Alejandro González Iñárritu’s fifth feature film Birdman, we suggest you add Michael Keaton to that esteemed list. Read on for our Birdman Review.
Birdman follows the exploits of Riggan Thomson, a washed-up Hollywood actor famed for his role in the Birdman superhero franchise decades ago. Riggan hopes to revive his failing career by writing, directing and starring in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love at the St. James Theatre on Broadway. The play is produced by Riggan’s best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and stars Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and first-time Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). After an incident involving a falling lamp, the cast is later joined by narcissistic method-actor Mike Shiner played by a mesmerising Ed Norton.
As if taking on all the roles the theatre has to offer wasn’t stressful enough, Riggan is tormented by the gravelly voice of the role that defines him. Birdman is in his head criticising his every insecurity. Riggan is spiraling into the depths of defeat and even imagines himself performing acts of levitation and telekinesis. He also employs as his assistant, his recovering drug addict daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who is back on the herb.
Defining Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance to give it it’s full name) is horribly impossible: It’s a stage farce, an ego destruction, a celebrity satire, a relationship drama and even a superhero movie. The invention on show is exhilarating and all made possible by Emmanuel Lubezki’s masterful cinematography. The Oscar winning DoP who gave us Gravity produces dancing shots that flow to create a seemingly single shot for the whole piece. Of course the gloriously hot and cold lighting in the theatre corridors lend themselves for crafty editing but the long and intricate tracking shots are expertly executed and create a breathless pace. In the good sense. The technique on show is astounding.
The fact that Birdman doesn’t ever overwhelm is testament to Iñárritu’s direction. Ditching the morose tones of Biutiful, the director opts for playful and pacey touches to accentuate Keaton’s inner-turmoil. His choice of splashy jazz percussion to soundtrack this whirlwind could easily have detracted and come across as pretentious but in reality it couldn’t be apt. It’s odd and off-beat just like everything else in this masterpiece. Each of Iñárritu’s previous four features have been nominated the Academy Awards and we’re positive this is a shoe-in too.
Holding this whole jolly together is the incredible Michael Keaton. His casting couldn’t be more perfect. Hollywood can be a cruel mistress and at 63 years old, you’d be forgiven if you had forgotten all about the Batman star – a sentiment echoed by many towards the Birdman star. The role is obviously suited but Keaton still has to shine – and he blazes with a selfless performance of incredible complexity. Whether Riggan’s superpowers are real or not is almost immaterial. His artistic and personal despair is most definitely legitimate and the powers that manifest themselves as a result are erratic and frantic and are completely at one with this jet black comedy.
Edward Norton deserves a special mention too for his hilarious turn as Mike the actor who insists on drinking real gin and shagging for real on stage. His yang to Riggan’s ying creates a palpable tension that Keaton bounces off with something memorable. It speaks volumes for Emma Stone too that she still stands out despite a relatively minor role. Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts are left to feed on seeds (and each other) but we’re being picky.
Birdman is a five star film with five star performances, directing and intentions. Nobody is safe from critique in this self aware showbiz satire – actors, directors, producers, publicists and critics will all come out questioning their complicity in the fame charade. Lucky for you, the audience gets off lightly and is treated to one of the best films in the last year.
Birdman Review: 5 Stars