Last year, I wrote an article entailing the reasons as to why I believed that the movie Birdman would be a golden opportunity to cast a humorous, satirical eye on the superhero saturated market of Hollywood. By virtue of the actors that had been announced — I had wagered that the performances would be strong and highly pointed towards an emphasize on comedy. At the time, I asked our readers to give the film a chance, hearkening it as a fun parody with mainstream appeal.
Whilst my assessment of the standard of acting was accurate, much else of what I had anticipated did not come to light. The tone of the production in particular had really taken me by surprise. Darkly in its demeanor and firmly rooted in the notion that tragedy can make the best comedy, Michael Keaton leads the charge in a story that i could best describe as a descent into misery with glimmers of hope present only in scenes of fantasy. Keaton’s character is struggling actor Riggan Thomson famed formerly for being a superhero on screen known as Birdman. The journey he takes is of discovery. In this world he is seen as a gimmick. The man in the bird suit. Trying to steer from away from the shadow of the Birdman leads Riggan in search of a career renaissance. He seeks to transition from the film industry to the much different realm of theatrical production. The idea being to ambitiously venture into adapting and directing his own version of the broadway play “Raymond Carver”.
Accompanying him along the process of getting the play off the ground is his agent played by Zack Gallifinakis and his daughter who is tasked with being his personal assistant played by Emma Stone. Choice performances from these three players in addition to Edward Norton (as a pompous stage performer) elevate the beautifully shot slideshow of scenes that give you the illusion that the entire film has been shot in one take. Interesting to note that the focus being centered around the one location (the theater) lends neatly to the director’s choice to film certain scenes in one continuous take. This gives the feel of watching a play instead of a movie, where performances are crucial and sets are minimalist. A clever juxtaposition of styles that strays the lines between watching live theater and a cinema going experience. Of interest is the content of the play that Riggan has chosen to adapt. It mirrors the hardship of his life and develops the character further. A simple well made drama would have sufficed with the sharp dialogue present but Birdman offers more than that.
A surreal experience awaits you upon your first viewing as the woes of our lead start to manifest in the form of the Birdman character berating Riggan’s life choices. It plays the part of an apparition that appears telling him to embrace the side of him that wants to sell out and simply cash in with another sequel to the implied “jaded” series of the aging Birdman franchise. We get the frustrations of Riggan unleashed in the form of manifested superpowers that he uses mainly to take out his rage on the problems that surround him. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu casts a keen eye on detail that can be overlooked upon first watch. Careful consideration is taken to avoid showing Riggan using his power whilst other people are around to witness it. This builds a tension that makes you ask the question, does he truly have these strange abilities or is he losing his mind? The darkness that befalls him is beckoned by different elements such as – his disillusioned relationship with his drug addled daughter, his aggravation regarding dealing with the demands of his lead performer, his lustful unrequited love towards his ex wife and above all the fear of his production absolutely tanking. These elements are played up brilliantly in certain scenes of monologue. We feel the weight of the world rested upon him as it gently placed on our own backs, because we have a character that we fully understand why he has become the person that has emerged through the unraveling plot.
This unique, unexpected tale of redemption for a sympathetic star of old is powerful in the punch of its dialogue, writing, performances and concept. I would highly recommend venturing to the cinema for this one. Truthfully, it was not the movie I had expected to see, but it actually delivered a better finished product. A grand topping of a well matched soundtrack puts the feather in the cap of what I believe to be a firm contender in the 2015 Oscars.
A wholly intriguing plot that maintains interest from start to finish. 9/10