Birdman (15)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan

Wow! One of the most visually engaging and original films I've seen in ages, this story of slightly washed up 90s action star Michael Keaton (playing up to his Batman past) putting on a Broadway play is quite hard to categorise. Is Keaton going nuts? Does he really have superpowers like his Birdman character? Are super serious celebrated actors Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough taking the piss put of themselves and method acting? There are so many factors that make this film so good.
I LOVED the camera that follows the characters around, making the film seem like one long uninterrupted take. Indeed, cinematogrpaher Emmanuel Lubezki won the Oscar (for the second year running after his work on 'Gravity' the year before). You really feel like you are there in the theatre with the actors, walking into dressing rooms and along the streets. Forget 3D, this is one of the most immersive films I've seen, taking you right into the scenes. Which makes the flights of fancy near the end when Birdman seems like he is turning New York into an action movie set, all the more dazzling.
I guess director Alejandro Inarritu took note of fellow Mexican Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, which similarly redefined immersive camera work.
Then there are the performances, led by Michael Keaton's manic lead Riggan, but ably supported by a never funnier Ed Norton, Emma Stone showing why she's one of the best young actors around. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan play smallish, less showy roles but are still very good too. Comedian Zach Galifianakis plays it pretty straight while Lindsay Duncan is one of the most vicious critics we've ever seen on screen, dismissing Oscars as 'prizes for comics and porn' and totally unimpressed with Riggan's lack of theatre credentials. Everyone is excellent as they drift in and out of frame, to the centre then the periphery of the action. Michael Keaton has received a lot of praise and he carries the film well, although he isn't exactly a likeable, sympathetic or warm central character.
The script and story is another great thing about this film. I had no idea what was going to happen, what was reality, what was Riggan's hallucinations. There are some funny comments about the preponderance of superhero movies and social media these days. The Birdman alter ego appears onscreen, hissing vindictive bile in Riggan's ear like an anti-Jiminy Cricket. We get 5 minutes of an Avengers-like alien attack on Broadway as Riggan's Birdman character seems to take control. Then there is that ending. Huh??! What was real?
This isn't an easy film to categorise. It's not quite a comedy, but has a lot of black humour for a drama. However, Inarritu's previous films 21 Grams and Babel were so grim, this is positively laugh out loud funny by comparison I guess! The characters aren't lovable or even particularly likeable, but this is definitely one of the best films I've seen in a long time and I'm keen to see it again to see if it holds up.
EDITED to add. Not quite as impressive second time round, the camera work a little showy. However, the film scooped 4 Oscars - Best film, screenplay, cinematography and best director. Such an original and innovatie piece of work.

January 2015

Back to Movies page
Back to main page