‘Birdman’ Review: Keaton, Director Inarritu Take Film To New Heights
Birdman is not a movie that will sit well with everyone. Few films do. What Birdman is, however, is a thought-provoking, superbly acted, well-written and expertly directed piece of independent cinema that is a shoo-in for multiple nominations come Oscar season. It is a potentially game changing work that demands to be seen.
Birdman stars Michael Keaton as a washed up former Hollywood star trying to re-ignite his past success in a more respected medium on the New York stage. He plays Riggan Thomson, a man who will star in a play he writes and directs. His attempt to capture glory at St.James Theater on Broadway will be met with incredible amounts of skepticism and criticism, both internal and external. Riggan battles personal and professional problems throughout – a pregnant girlfriend, a reformed druggie daughter (Emma Stone), his ex-wife and co-stars (including a return to form from Edward Norton) to name a few. How can Riggan pull it off?
The story serves only as a backdrop to several more thought provoking themes on celebrity, artistic criticism, social media, typecasting and the fickle changing of a public’s tastes, to name a mere few in truth. There are so many questions asked and observations made in the film, with plenty of name-dropping to go around, that one can’t help but delight in it all. The inner-workings of theater and play performance are on display as well as politics and relationships not seen while the “show must go on.” It’s remarkably heady stuff.
The true groundbreaking portion of the film is laid out by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros). Known for his Spanish-language works with interweaving storylines, here he manages the same feat while providing the illusion of one single shot throughout. No scene cuts or jumps from inside a car to a restaurant. Ever. Birdman is presented as if it’s done in a single take and while the film can be claustrophobic at times, that’s partially the point. It’s a marvel that will undoubtedly reap the appropriate rewards and depending on the financial success of the film, raises the bar for directors everywhere.
Keaton is excellent, though the same can really be said about the entire cast. I can see up to 4 or 5 acting nominations coming in various slots here and would be shocked if there aren’t at least 2-3 with Norton, Keaton and one of the female so-stars (Naomi Watts or Stone). Top notch acting, writing and directing in a singular piece; it’s how movies should be far more often. This may be the film that started a revolution in filmmaking, though I somehow suspect that a paying public and conservative Hollywood will not take the bait over time. Still, it’s an achievement that will not go unnoticed by film aficionados and Birdman deserves all the props it is all but certain to receive. At one point, a foreign journalist lauds Riggan for possibly doing Birdman 4, after watching this, if it was based on this film, you may indeed want that to happen. Birdman is my film of the year to this point and I highly doubt it will come to the ground based on the level it is soaring at for me.