Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton & Emma Stone Synopsis: A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory Rating: 15 Runtime: 119 minutes Release date: 1 January 2015
When I initially heard about BiRDMAN, it had me intrigued. A film starring Michael Keaton where he portrays a down on his luck actor, who is mostly remembered for his time playing one of Hollywood’s first big superheroes is a tale that it so close to real life, I had to know exactly how Keaton would approach it and, more importantly, if the film could work as a satisfying whole. And for the most part, it does. BiRDMAN is a fast paced, witty and altogether real look at the life of an aging actor trying to re-establish himself and his career in the eyes of a modern audience.
Riggan Thompson (Keaton) once played the now famous BiRDMAN character in the early days of Hollywood’s big budget superhero films, and it’s a role that has haunted him for the rest of his career. Riggan’s attempts to move on have, so far, proved fruitless, but in one last throw of the dice, he has decided to move to New York and self-fund a theatre production of the Raymond Carver short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The play is Riggan’s passion project, and his desire to reconnect with his artistic side and feel relevant again are two factors that play throughout the film. Riggan is so obsessed by the project that he seems to forget and/or neglect the other important things in his life. Such as his daughter Sam, played by the excellent Emma Stone, and his girlfriend Laura, the also excellent Andrea Riseborough.
In his attempts to make the play as successful as possible, he hires the good, but highly combustible stage actor Mike Shiner to take the lead role, after a fortunate accident befalls his first lead actor. Shiner is played with a ruthless edge by Edward Norton. The two come to blows both verbally and physically as they battle it out with their differing views on how the play should be handled. Shiner wants to be as realistic as possible, from drinking real gin on stage in one of the plays first previews and causing the curtain to come down early, to trying to have sex with his co-star (Naomi Watts) in front of 800 audience members and then having his erection going viral on twitter. Whereas Riggan has his mind set on how the play should unfold, and is wary of anyone trying to change his best laid plans.
BiRDMAN is 90% set in the theatre where the play is taking place. This creates a claustrophobic feel as the camera jerks round hallways, into fitting rooms and past dressing rooms. Meaning we get to see all the nooks and crannies of the theatre, and you feel like you are actually there, cohabiting with these actors and that you are a fly on the wall in their chaotic lives. With director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, they have tried to create the feel that BiRDMAN was filmed in one continuous take. Of course, this wasn’t the case, as the film has been very cleverly edited, but they do come close, and it all feels very dizzying at times. With the quick camera angles, and the quicker dialogue, BiRDMAN leaves you gasping for breath at times, and perhaps leaves you wondering if you have missed something as it moves at such a brisk pace.
Aside from all the clever character interactions, and the pseudo documentary feel, BiRDMAN is also quite funny. Largely it would seem to paint no one in a good light, as it pokes fun at actors and their fragile egos, it also has a dig at modern audiences and features one scathing attack on bloggers and critics and what right we have to judge hard these hard-working people. In that regard, BiRDMAN can be a hard film to like, because really the people in it are complete bastards most of the time. Some audience members may find it hard to connect with the film, its characters and its themes and thusly will find little to enjoy here. But, and maybe I’m being a little snobbish here, those who are really interested in film, and its creative process, will find BiRDMAN fascinating. It won’t be for everyone, but there are many things to enjoy here, not least a fantastic central performance from Keaton, and one that will surely see him get some major awards nominations come the start of next year.
In summary: BiRDMAN is a fast paced, unapologetic look at the world actors live in & how they struggle to overcome their own ego while staying relevant to themselves and the public. Michael Keaton puts in his best performance in years, while an outstanding supporting cast & assured direction make Birdman a possible Oscar contender. Recommended.
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