<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zack Galifianiakis, Lindsay Duncan, Amy Ryan
Birdman is a strange kind of movie that will overwhelm your senses and keep you with a smile on your face throughout. It’ll make you want to watch it again.
With a name like Birdman most people assume the film is about some super hero. Safe assumption, considering the bounty of such candyfloss films that have bombarded theatres. Birdman is in fact a satire on these very same films. But it’s not just that. It’s about a has-been superstar called Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who lost his way after choosing to leave a popular super hero film franchise. And for those of you who don’t see the irony in that it would be interesting for you to know that Michael Keaton used to be Batman in the film franchise that made super hero films big business. He left all of that after two films and then kind of lost his way.
Riggan used to be Birdman in the film and now his once-famous alter-ego haunts his mind, questioning his decision to rekindle his career with a Broadway play based on a short story by Raymond Carver that he’s adapted and now is directing and acting in. And so Birdman takes place mainly in a theatre where the actors rehearse for the play and live their lives backstage.
The very first shot of the film shows Riggan levitating in meditation off the floor. He can move objects at will and drop stage lighting on co-actors he doesn’t like. A bit odd, you say. But as you hurtle through the film you slowly begin to realise what’s super power and what’s imagined super power.
Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is brought in to replace the aforementioned actor on whom the stage light fell (only injuring and not killing him). Shiner is Riggan’s other co-star, Lesley’s (Naomi Watts) boyfriend who is a great crowd pulling theatre actor with plenty of eccentricities to add to the already myriad quirky characters in the production. That includes Riggan’s best friend and attorney Jake (Zach Galifianakis) who provides a lot of the comedic lines but then the film, as a whole, is actually very funny.
Thrown into the mix Riggan’s new girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), his ex wife (Amy Ryan) and drug-recovering daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and you have a nut house of characters that interact with each other so seamlessly it feels like one of those dreams you have that just go from one scene to the next without a cut. In Birdman you feel as if the shots are continuous, following the actors from one scene to the next without any editing. Some of it is certainly like that thanks to the genius of cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki and some of it through the magic of digital editing that makes you feel there is no transition or almost seamless changeover. And this is perfect because the flow of the actors is hardly ever disturbed as they take you on a journey of drama, tension, love, pain, pathos and passion (including a hard on during a performance of the play!).
All of this is scored with a musician’s beats on a drum set, sometimes visible in the frames as a part of the scene at others just ratcheting up the tempo so wonderfully you’ll be enchanted by the beauty of its simplicity in moving you.
All the actors without exception are in top form, delivering heated, intense performances whilst having the camera almost thrust in their faces at times. This takes true dedication and skill to achieve especially since some of the scenes would have involved a bit of creative improvisation now and then. Director Iñárritu who has directed several good films like Babel, Biutiful, 21 Grams and Amores Perros has created a truly brilliant piece of cinema with Birdman. It’s entertaining, moving and creatively unique. The technique fits the material like a glove.
Oh and Michael Keaton is superb in a role of a lifetime that very much seems like it has been made precisely for him in mind. And he will get the Oscar for this one this year that is without a doubt.
Birdman is about theatre, it’s about movies, it is about how Hollywood has killed creativity and originality with packaged trilogies of robots and super heroes smashing things up in 3D leaving very little for the actors to actually do. Birdman is about trying to live your life fully and meaningfully rather than in a tweet or instapic that will get you ‘likes’ but lose you the moment you could have savoured.
Birdman is actually a film that you could write a lot about but I think I’ll go see it again before I do.