Film: Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Runtime: 119 mins
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts
Rating: 5 stars
My first film of 2015 and I’m already wondering if I will see a better one this year. Director Iñárritu, whose previous films have included the gritty and serious 21 Grams, Babel and Buitiful, has delivered a wonderful black comedy the majority of which is shot within one location, yet its intensity keeps the viewer gripped from the opening sequence to the thought provoking finish.
The first shots of the film find faded Hollywood star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) meditating in his dressing room, whilst hovering 3 feet above the floor. The camera then sweeps around the St James Theatre and its surroundings for virtually the rest of the movie, creating a cut-free movie experience that is perfectly executed by cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki (Gravity). It is this flowing movement that draws the viewer in as the camera moves down corridors or drifts onto the stage in front of a packed audience, making you feel as if you are part of what is actually taking place.
Riggan, we learn, has some years before abandoned his very successful role as super hero Birdman, but seemingly left his fans behind and this is his desperate attempt to regain fame and pander to his showman’s ego. Thomson has persuaded his friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) to produce a self funded Broadway play based on a short story by Raymond Carver. Alongside Jake, Thomson has hired his daughter (Emma Stone) who is recovering from drug dependency, as his personal assistant, in an attempt to re-build a lost relationship with her.
Almost from the start the production is in difficulty and the loss of the leading actor provides Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a method actor, the chance to act opposite his own girlfriend Leslie (Naomi Watts), with some interesting and hilarious outcomes.
As the production appears to stumble from one crisis to another, the pressure starts to build on Riggan Thomson. His hallucinations about his own powers are interspersed with the deep voice of Birdman, who eventually makes an appearance in an attempt to lure him back to the more fanciful world of super hero movies.
The dialogue often keeps one guessing: is it for real or are the characters using the lines from the Raymond Carver play? We don’t always know. Alongside this there is the roaming camera effect as we follow Riggan around the theatre only to suddenly burst out into a busy New York street. Its brilliant stuff. The soundtrack is also a strong element in the film and almost at random a musician will appear. What we don’t know is if anyone else can see them or is it all in the mind of Riggan.
The preview evenings, shot from the stage looking out towards the audience, do not go well and its during one of these that perhaps the best scene emerges when Riggan somehow manages to get himself locked out of the theatre in his underwear during the performance, with the only way back in through a bustling street to the main entrance. It’s wonderfully played by Keaton and of course instantly goes viral on social media, a world Riggan cannot understand and has pushed back on.
Birdman has nine Oscar nominations, hardly surprising with the cast all giving superb performances and the extraordinary cinematography being recognised. This is a film worth seeing, not least because as the film closes on the face of Emma Stone we are left trying to fathom out exactly what happened there? ….let me know what you think.
Enjoy and Facebook us with your interpretation.
Written by Howard Groves.