Hi everyone, Bryan Here…
It’s a very rare occurrence where a film changes the game on almost every aspect of filmmaking. From acting to camerawork, ‘Birdman‘ literally soars above the rest where fierce emotions of erratic actors are put on display in a chaotic yet darkly comedic setting inside the St. James Theatre on West 44th Street in Manhattan. Not only do these actors turn in Oscar-worthy performances of the highest order, but director Alejandro G. Inarritu (Amores Perros) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have given us an image so fresh and that pushes the bounds, that this is one of the most pleasing films of the year, visually speaking and unlike anything you might have seen before. Lubezki has worked with Alfonso Cauron on ‘Children of Men‘ and the recent film ‘Gravity‘.
Now if you’ve seen those movies, you will remember that they were famous for having long scenes, greater than ten minutes without a single edit or cut (or at least it was made to look like that). Well keeping that in mind, Inarritu and Lubezki enhance that experience by making the entire film of ‘Birdman‘ look like it is one long continuous shot, following the actors over the course of a few days. This gimmick is rarely used in film, mostly because it is very difficult to do and pull off well. Alfred Hitchcock pulled it off in 1948 with ‘Rope‘ and Josh Becker did it in 1997 with Bruce Campbell in a film called ‘Running Time‘. But none can hold a candle to what ‘Birdman‘ pulled off with this illusion of one long shot. It makes the movie that much more magical.
As I said before, the film takes place all in Broadway Theatre, leading up to opening night. The cast is lead by Michael Keaton, who plays Riggan Thomson, a washed up older actor, known for his big superhero films from twenty years ago, who is in desperate need of staging a comeback to become recognized again and to leave his mark on the world. Riggan went off the Hollywood radar when he turned down ‘Birdman 4’ all those years ago, and is now wanting the respect from his audience, critics, and peers to spur his ego once again. But Riggan will always know that he will forever be paired with his Birdman character, as he has a poster of Birdman in his dressing room and even the fictional character of Birdman talks to him as his psychotic alter ego from time to time as he walks through the theatre, getting stuff ready for opening night.
Riggan isn’t making it easy on himself either, as he’s chosen to write, direct, and star in this Broadway play, which is based on Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love‘. He has hired another film actor named Lesley (Naomi Watts), who is making her Broadway debut and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), who is the on and off again girlfriend of Riggan. But when a bizarre accident leaves another actor unable to perform the role, Lesley wrangles her boyfriend, also a big named film actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), which will certainly sell tickets. Shiner is not the easiest person to work with and in fact makes things very difficult for Riggan and everyone else involved from, starting fights, trying to force re-writes, and even drinking real alcohol on stage rather than water during a preview that results in disastrous effects.
If that weren’t enough, Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), who is if fresh out of rehab is reminding her dad how irrelevant he is because of his lack of commitment to social media and interviews, and not to mention his best friend and accountant played by a straight laced Zach Galifianakis who is constantly telling Riggan they have no money and that everything is riding on the success of this play. Inarritu shows us all of the inner workings of a Broadway play, from costume fittings to bursts of rage, fights, smoking cigarettes on the roof, to getting locked out of the bulding in your underwear and having to run through a packed Times Square to meet your cue on stage.
We see these aspects of a play, but there is something much more at work here, which is showing us how these great and respected actors are mere shells of a real person, void of any sane human emotion. While they may shine on stage perfectly, in real life, they can’t figure simple things out like communicating on a plain level with one another or holding a relationship for longer than a few days. It’s quite sad to see as each actor gives such emotional and real performances, that you can’t help but sympathize with them.
The only thing that stuck out to me that didn’t seem to fit in to this realistic setting was when the premiere New York Broadway critic tells Riggan that she will kill his play and give it a very negative review, even though she hasn’t seen the play. Her reason is that he is a poser from Hollywood who is trying to deliver garbage into the New York scene. While I’m sure this happened more than fifty yearas ago, I’m certain it wouldn’t happen today. But I get why Inarritu put it in there, which is to add to that ever growing tension on Riggan before opening night.
Michael Keaton is beyond excellent here. He gives a performance for the ages here and is highly deserving of the Oscar for Best Actor here, delivering on every chaotic and sweet human emotion on the spectrum. Norton is as always excellent, as is everyone else, particularly Emma Stone who plays a lost young woman searching for meaning and her father who has never been there for her. ‘Birdman‘ isn’t just a film, it’s an experience so magical and raw, that you’ll be talking about it for months to come. Run, don’t walk to see ‘Birdman‘.
5 out of 5 Stars
– Bryan Kluger