Every once in a while a movie comes along that I completely adore but have a hard time putting the reasons why I do into words… This is one of those movies. I am unsure about the marketing of this movie elsewhere but here in the UK the publicity for this film was very minimal indeed, culminating in a 20 – 30 second trailer hailing the film for its brilliance whilst Michael Keaton walks through Times Square in nothing but his underwear.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) comes from the extraordinary mind of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the man behind Babel (with Brad Pitt + Kate Blanchett) and Biutiful (with Javier Bardem). If you have seen these films then you’ll understand what I mean when I say they are ‘heavy’ films. A.G.I is not the type of director / writer we have sadly become accustomed to over the last few years. He is the very definition of an auteur, something the likes of Michael Bay will never be.
Birdman follows Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton in his first starring role in over 6 years, a washed up actor whose only major credit is a superhero franchise that ended 20 years previously, as he tries to reclaim his past glory in the form of a broadway play, all the while trying to overcome family troubles and tension amongst the cast.
The description of the plot doesn’t live up to the excellence of the film and that is why I find it hard to put the reasons I love this film down on paper… or more accurately, computer screen. It is like trying to describe the Mona Lisa. One of the worlds most exquisite examples of art but if a blind person asked you to describe it you could do little other than say “It’s a nice painting of a lady”.
As stated earlier A.G.I is not your average film maker, so much so that for Birdman he wanted to create the effect of the film looking as if it was created in a single take. An almost impossible feat in the world of jump cuts and inexcusable continuity errors. But he manages to pull it off without a hitch. Scenes stretch for large lengths of time, the camera constantly swooping behind and around characters to give you the full story without the jerky motion of switching viewpoints. Filming it must have been a nightmare, news of a 15 page dialogued and fully choreographed scene sending shivers down the spines of every wannabe filmmaker in the business, yet the final product is simply sublime. I only noticed the odd occasions where they had masked a transition for the sole reason that I was actively looking out for them. Leaving rooms, walking down darkened staircases, a steady camera pan; all of these techniques were used expertly to help make the film feel like the stage show that it was representing.
Because that is what this film is… a beautifully crafted stage production.
Along with the expert execution of the film comes some of the best actor performances of their individual careers. Michael Keaton shines as Riggan, his quest to once again become relevant in an age of Twitter and being Viral rings a harsh truth on some of the older actors in the business today. Comparisons to his time as Batman are easily made but purposefully so (Riggan’s time as Birdman ended in 1992, the year Keaton’s final adventure as the Dark Knight in Batman Returns was released) showing a perfect example of how casting should be done; although Keaton has stated that Riggan was his hardest role to play, stating that the character is as far from himself as possible, even with the purposeful allusions to his past career. As the film progresses Riggan starts to lose his grip on himself, the dark voice of his past whispering to him to seize what he truly wants, to become the man he once was, sell out so that he can feel the brief buzz of relevance flow through him once again. The Birdman is Riggan’s own personal Lady Macbeth, pushing him to grab his desires.
Another case of perfect casting comes in the form of Edward Norton’s character, Mike. A superb stage actor who presence causes tension due to his abrasiveness, a parodied trait as Norton himself is said to be the same. Yet when he first graces the film with his presence you can feel the level of acting become raised. A rehearsal scene between Mike and Riggan allows Norton and Keaton to really let lose and show just how experienced an actor they both are.
Almost every performance in this piece is exquisite, from Emma Stone’s recently rehabbed daughter to a surprisingly pleasing Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s manager and best friend. Stone perfectly portrays the rebellious daughter seeking her fathers love and approval through outbursts of drug induced hate; Galifianakis reveals he can be funny and pleasing to watch, without resorting to the slightly simple character portrayals that he has been typecast in in the Hangover Trilogy and Due Date.
I cannot rave about this film more. Definitely needs multiple watches, not due to being confusing but to simply be able to sit back and marvel at how a film should be made.