Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) had it all in the 1990s. A career to die for, million dollar movie gigs and an adoring public that couldn’t get enough of his work in Birdman, the seminal superhero action franchise of a pointless decade. Fast forward to reality however, and Thomson is no longer the supernova that he once was, as this fading star starts to collapse in on himself in a last ditch attempt to save face and credibility.
The fifth film from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman is a spectacle in stylish cinematography, whirling visual ideas and a harsh look at the humdrum truth of reality. But it’s also a variety of genre movies grounded by one man’s search to matter for once in his life, as Keaton turns in an Oscar-worthy performance that if ignored, will be the Jethro Tull of all award show snubs.
And it’s hard not to feel for Keaton. His character is a washed-up, bitter old man, yearning to end his career on a high note that doesn’t revolve around dressing up as a latex super-powered aviary sex offender. Spry and resembling a sickly condor more than a prime bird of prey, Keaton is a force to be reckoned with.
Attempting to win back some of the credibility that he yearns so much for, Thomson sinks everything he has into a stage production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Directing, producing and starring in the Broadway play, Thomson soon finds himself in over his head as he deals with a prima donna replacement actor, bouts of despair, a relationship with a younger co-star on the rocks and a daughter who happens to berate his decisions while puffing away her rehab.
It’s a massive vortex of drama, madness and danger, a calamity of personal issues that would crush any lesser actor in the role. But Keaton comes through, proving why he remains one of the best, if underrated, actors in the industry today as he channels some of his own history into the role. There’s a lot of talk that Keaton is going to be walking away with an armful of awards this year. And every single one will be well deserved.
But it’s not just Keaton who steals the show. Edward Norton serves as a perfect foil, a last minute replacement method actor who is on the verge of sabotaging all of Thomson’s hard work with his extreme narcissism, alcoholic stage demands and insistence to toss a simulated sex scene out the window in favour of some gratuitous grinding for his adoring public.
Two sides of the same coin essentially, Keaton and Norton steal the show from each other whenever they open their mouths or perform a gesture, but it’s Emma Stone who provides the balance between the two, easily holding her own in several key scenes and proving her potential as a up and coming Hollywood star.
And holding a whirlwind of passionate acting that never chews the scenery, is the magnificent technical wizadry of DoP Emmanuel Lubezki, who stitches several intricate tracking shots together with pure magic to create a film told entirely through “one scene” that dances between the boring pressures of life and Thomson’s out of control fantasies as he imagines himself prowling through the sky while an uptown Jazz score seals the deal.
It’s a massively ambitious take from Lubezki and Iñárritu, that could have easily been more rubbish than the third film in a superhero trilogy. But the pair combine all of their experience and grand designs to create a movie that is pure style and substance. Birdman is an unapologetic stab at the entertainment industry, the people who dwell within it and the desire to feel like you had some purpose in life. But it’s also a movie that is equal parts claustrophobic and free of restraints, a film that soars high with two of Hollywood’s best actors dishing out the performance of a lifetime.
Last Updated: January 19, 2015