Genre: Drama, Comedy
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Screenplay: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Zach Galiafianakis, Lindsay Duncan
Running Length: 120 minutes
Synopsis: Birdman is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.
Review: If I had to pick just one word to describe Birdman, it would have to be “dazzling”. Not only is the film breathtaking in its technical achievements, it also happens to be an excellent ensemble film, with superlative performances coming from almost everyone in the cast, and boasts an entertaining plot to boot. This is one of the best cinematic experiences I have had in quite some time, and even this early into 2015, I would imagine it to be pretty difficult for any movie to trump Birdman for pole position for the rest of the year.
Although Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has had a pretty impressive CV to date (his four previous feature films – Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful – have all received critical acclaim), they have uniformly been pretty serious, “downer” films. Birdman seems to be the first time the director is having fun, and the result is a film that is a joy to sit through from start to finish, and is so intricately layered that it would be wise to plan ahead and avoid any toilet breaks throughout the 2-hour running time.
It almost seems like an impossible task, but Inarritu, together with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (fresh off his Oscar win for Gravity last year), has managed to create an illusion of a film that is composed of a single, uninterrupted take. Yes, it is essentially a one trick pony, but when the trick is so visually impressive it’s hard to criticize the endeavour. The long and immaculately choreographed tracking shots are incredible to observe, and although not entirely seamless, is an exhilarating cinematic accomplishment. As expected, Lubezki has secured an Oscar nomination and I cannot see any more deserving winner this year.
Michael Keaton gives a career-best performance as Riggan Thompson, and because the role of Riggan Thompson seems to mirror Keaton’s real life career (Keaton walked away from the Batman franchise almost 20 years ago, after a successful two-movie run), the lines between make-believe and reality are blurred to the benefit of the film’s narrative. Equally on form is Edward Norton, perfectly cast as the equally talented and egotistic Mike Shiner, again seemingly lampooning Norton’s real-life method acting quirks. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, with special mention going to Emma Stone, who knocks it out of the park playing the damaged, fresh out of rehab daughter of Thompson (and sets the screen alight with the crackling chemistry between her and Norton in a few short, but key sequences).
In this era of tired sequels, endless remakes and big budget Hollywood blockbusters, gems like Birdman come few and far between. That it is both technically accomplished and still an eminently entertaining film is the cherry on top. It feels fresh despite treading familiar tropes, and much like its jazz soundtrack, is reminiscent of improv of the highest caliber. I cannot recommend this enough, and anyone who professes a love for cinema needs to watch Birdman at least once.
Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)