Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance.
Incredible. If asked to sum up Birdman in one word, incredible would be my word of choice. To cut to the chase, Birdman is essential viewing, director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s best work, and a shoo-In for the cinematography category come the impending awards season.
That this film above the likes of the excellent Amores Perros and Babel is Iñárritu’s finest is no small claim, however he has successfully created a film that on the one hand is tonally his lightest to date, whilst at the same time retaining the depth and intelligence of his earlier work. It may well be his most easily accessible film, but that certainly doesn’t mean that any allowances have been made with the intricacy of the story and characters that has come to be expected from Iñárritu’s work.
The imperfections of the characters are endearing, revealing and often times darkly comic, none more so that Michael Keaton’s Riggan, who is deeply flawed, deeply ambitious and deeply desperate in equal measures. Riggan is the former star of Birdman, a trilogy of superhero movies that were smash hits in the 90’s. Since turning down the opportunity of another Birdman sequel Riggan’s career and life have deteriorated dramatically, losing his wife, becoming a cinematic relic of the past, whilst his daughter drifts away from him and towards drugs and alcohol. With the last of his money (and credibility) he bids to put himself back in the limelight with the production of a Broadway play which he writes, directs and stars in.
Seeing Keaton in this role having donned the Batman suit earlier in his career in Tim Burton’s take on the character is bizarre yet fitting, and his performance is nothing short of remarkable. The parallels made between the the actor and his character are in line with the film’s commentary on Hollywood, the profession of acting and the fickle nature of the entertainment industry. Edward Norton’s Mike acts as a counterpoint to Riggan, a man at the opposite end of the career ladder. Talented yet egotistical, he butts heads with Riggan throughout, with the chemistry between the two actors elevating their scenes together to gripping viewing.
In honesty there’s not really a bad word to be said of any of the impressive cast. Emma Stone is fantastic as Riggan’s daughter, Naomi Watts shows beautiful frailty as an actress achieving her dream of gracing the Broadway stage, and Zach Galifianakis is effortlessly likeable as he attempts the unenviable job of keeping Riggan’s feet on the ground. On paper the cast is impressive, and on screen this is even more so the case.
The real star of the piece however is Emmanuel Lubezki’s outstanding cinematography. The film is shot and edited to appear as though filmed in one singular take, and the effect of this is dazzling. Imagine the famous extended shot in Children of Men (also shot by Lubezki) played out for the length of an entire film:
The deceit with the cinematography is clever – Lubezki uses panning shots and time lapses, amongst other techniques to link multiple shots together to appear as one. This gives the file a restless energy, with the camera probing between the characters, reflecting the restless state of mind Riggan finds himself in.
Riggan’s state of mind sees him teetering on the edge of sanity as he hears the voice of Birdman pushing him towards delusion. Whilst his state of mind appears to be leading the film down a certain road it takes a sharp left towards its close, ending on an ambiguous note that leaves you both head scratching and theorising over what has been witnessed. And so is the power of Birdman – there may not be any one true answer, but there certainly are multiple layers of meaning. What more could anyone ask for from a movie? According to the voice in Riggan’s head, quite a lot it would seem.
“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.”
Is the voice wrong? On the evidence of Birdman I would certainly say so. Perhaps, like the answer to the final mystery of the film, the real answer is open for interpretation.
A spectacular display of filmmaking talent. A perfectly performed, perfectly shot, perfectly directed portrayal of a seriously imperfect character.
Rating (out of 5):