Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zack Galifianakis and Naomi Watts
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: January 1st
An insanely talented Mexican writer/director, a powerfully raw central performance, a constant rollercoaster that can sometimes wade into pretension, lensed by cinematography wunderkind Emmanuel Lubezki… there are more than a few comparisons to be made between Birdman and last year’s Oscar magnet Gravity. The difference is that while Sandra Bullock found herself in the middle of a visceral, visual, external onslaught, Michael Keaton is orbited by his own impending nervous breakdown.
Keaton (formerly Batman) plays Riggan (formerly Birdman), a washed-up actor who is attempting to produce, direct and headline a play on Broadway in order to give his waning star power a bit of a boost. With a pregnant girlfriend (Riseborough), rage-fuelled daughter (Stone), panicky agent/producing partner (Galifianakis), tetchy method actor (Norton) and doubt-filled leading lady (Watts) all demanding his constant attention, nobody has clued into the fact that Riggan believes himself to be actually super-powered, often having conversations with his alter ego, a gravelly voiced version of himself in full-on Birdman attire.
While Steve Carrell might get all the attention for the fake-nose and playing against type in Foxcatcher, Keaton is far more impressive here, his unique energy and delivery helping to bare his body and soul in a role that would consume 99.9% of other performers. His supporting cast are all equally stellar, with a special shout-out to Norton for playing a character that is essentially a reflection of how people perceive him to actually be, and actually having fun with it.
Even with all this greatness going on in front of the screen, Birdman still belongs to Alejandro González Iñárritu. Having the entire movie feel like it’s playing out in one long take – even as we know the events take place across several weeks – adds in the added pressure and theatrical feel to proceedings, while the screenplay starts off as witty and insightful with lots of inside jokes and asides about competing actors, but before long it unfolds into something far more profound and emotional.
Fold in the aforementioned cinematography (if anyone else wins that Oscar, it’ll be the greatest robbery in Academy history) and the outstanding soundtrack (between this and the upcoming Whiplash, 2015 might be the year of jazz scores), everything appears to be as great as it can be. So why only four stars?
At times, Birdman seems a teeny bit too in love with itself, and to aware of it’s own perceived profundity. Aside from taking on big themes like leaving a legacy, mental anguish, the circular pattern of pain and the liquidity of love, Iñárritu also takes pot shots at the current state of Hollywood, commercialism versus art, professional criticism and loads more besides. Far be it from us to condemn a film for attempting too much, but Birdman occasionally buckles under the weight of its own workload. While it very often soars, once or twice a scene won’t be able to stick the tricky landing, while there are half a dozen subplots just left wafting in the wind come the closing credits.
Back to the Gravity comparison, when that big budget blockbuster was taken out of its preferred IMAX atmosphere and watched at home, it automatically lost a star for most viewers, which is where Birdman might differ. Maybe a rewatch in the confined settings of our own TVs a few months from now might be just what Keaton and co need; a bit of a breather to push it into that five-star status.