Words by Troy Balmayer
This film sees Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to shed his superhero acting days of the Birdman series by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway play. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ is having financial problems until supremo actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) comes along. Soon acting wars arise and the issue of celebrity and theatre take centre stage as Riggan uses apparent powers to be the respected talent he craves to be.
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this tale has a crazy amount of flair and style. He displayed that unwinding criss cross of direction in the brilliant ‘Amores Perros’ and in this movie he lets the story play out through near full length unedited wonder. The film glides and floats through scenes making the whole story seem oddly smooth considering the madness centered in the plot. This fluid one shot appearance is perfect and as it winds around through the theatre it feels like a promenade performance, as if we the audience are following Riggan and his life, a theme key in the film as it explores culture and the obsession of fan followings.
The writing is smart and beautifully written in making the many exchanges feel real. The entire scripting team have conjured up a poignant yet absurd narrative and though there can be a lot of dialogue that some may get bored with, others will lap up the neat and well constructed study of celebrity and identity. The ending itself is one that you always wonder how it’ll play out and when the screen goes to black and the first credit appears, I at least felt happy in the clever and open ending.
Antonio Sanchez gifts this movie a heroic amount of tempo and charisma through repeated percussion. The drum beats really strike the speakers well and ramp up either tension or feelings of bewilderment as Riggan goes about his ever odder days. Having the drummer planted into the scenes is a nice out of body touch and breaks the fourth wall, it also adds to the way Riggan sees himself as powerful, a possible illusion to him believing the drummer is soundtracking his life.
The movie is genius in the design and content. As simple as a background billboard of Superman reflecting the hero-like stature of Riggan as he stands atop a building. Then there’s the fact of having two former superhero actors in the movie. One time Batman and Hulk squaring off against one another is fantastic, piled tremendously on top of this is Thomson’s story of George Clooney and a plane crash, a wink to another Batman alumni worrying Riggan’s mind. The near end in a hospital features neat mask imagery too.
It’s a mysterious film and it grandly details the desire of fame, recognition, plaudits and love. These are running themes that go alongside the main issue of media and especially concerning the artistry of the theatre. The whole critic vs performer debate is brilliant from both sides and added to all these other themes is the magnifying glass on audiences and their expectations. We crave action and fast moving plots as much as Riggan craves to be adored for something understated. The insane explosive, robotic bird, birdman journey that Thomson takes around New York is the brief action filled superhero-esque nonsense that so many want in movie releases.
Michael Keaton is a shoe in for an Academy Award, if not then it’s a terrible snub from the Oscar panel as his performance is mad, emotional, subtle then big and overall a fascinating character comes to life because of Keaton. The echoing voice over of Birdman is fantastic and every look Keaton gives breathes further life into Riggan, a high flying role deserving of every credit. Edward Norton is also insanely good, the jerky arrogant talent runs through every nuance and as he faces off against Keaton we get some of the best scenes in the film. Zach Galifianakis steps away from his usual shtick and gives comedic yet panicked sidekick material to producer Jake. Emma Stone is doe eyed and unhinged as Riggan’s daughter Sam, her pieces of dialogue about twitter, social media and the clawing of attention are powerfully spoken about and she acts as a brilliant opposite to Riggan.
Birdman is a technical triumph stuffed with dizzying spectacular performances. The smooth one take centre is wonderful, the plot is beautiful and mad and the look is stylish and haunting. This has to be seen to believed and in my thoughts, seen at least twice just to admire Keaton, Norton and the magical direction.
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