Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
I don't particularly enjoy using phrases like 'superlative performance' or 'plays with the form', largely because they make me sound like I'm trying to be a film-critic rather than a movie-reviewer, and especially in this case as director Alejandro Iñárritu has plenty to say about critics (although he also has plenty to say about audiences, for that matter).
Nonetheless, this two-hour joyride of surreal adrenaline stretches 'the form' to breaking point, being a film, play, dream-sequence and monologue all-in-one. Presented as a single, unbroken hand-held camera-shot*1, Birdman is relentless, picking up the viewer like the levitating Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) in its opening scene and refusing to put them down as they laugh, cry, rage and fly with Keaton for the duration of the film. With two notable exceptions, the film is soundtracked purely by jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez (and while a drummer often appears in-shot, that's not actually him), with the tempo always syncopated, but growing more erratic as Riggan's breakdown looms.
Trading heavily and only semi-ironically on Keaton's IRL role as Batman, we spend the vast majority of the running time seeing things through his eyes as the washed-up actor creates, directs and stars in an ambitious Broadway play, adapting the work of one of his favourite writers, Raymond Carver, in a bid to prove that he's more than just a has-been celeb in a bird-costume.
The screenplay is brutally self-aware, with the Birdman character and in-movie actor names seeming to be the only fictionalised aspects, as pop-culture references and icons of the 20th and 21st centuries are ruthlessly deconstructed. Birdman is Keaton's show of course, in a career-defining role played as only he could, but it couldn't be done without the stunning supporting performances from Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. While their characters often seem underdeveloped, it's mainly because that's how Riggan sees them. My only niggle is that the final act of the film all but abandons the secondary characters as Riggan's psychoses close in, also leaving behind much of the dry humour that preceded it. I also have to admire that Birdman chooses not to close on the two natural end-points which occur, but on the third and actual one (which is admittedly better). I may not like that necessarily, but I admire it.
By no means a throwaway film, Birdman will command your attention from start to finish, but that's not to say it won't be enjoyed by fans of indie-film and superhero-movies alike.
Never has the phrase 'the lie that tells the truth' seemed more appropriate…
It begins to be, but nothing can come as close as the film itself.
If the trailer appeals, go and find this movie at the nearest cinema to you, forthwith.
I will a bit, yeah.
Does anyone else want a Birdman animated mini-series anyway?
*1 And it's not, but it's presented very effectively as one, and I confess that I spent more time than was strictly necessary ticking off the edit-points.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.