Birdman (2015)

Birdman (2015)

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"Hey, you're Batman aren't you?"
“Hey, you’re Batman aren’t you?”

Twitter Plot Summary: Former superhero movie star tries his hand at a serious stage play to remove his shackles and gain recognition away from the mask.

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an intensely complicated story, yet despite its many layers it remains logical and consistent from start to finish. Combining fantasy elements (we open with a shot of Riggan Thompson floating in his dressing room), an exploration of a person’s ego and id, and extensive labyrinthine personal lives, Birdman is a film that fully justifies repeat viewings.

Michael Keaton is on award-baiting form as Riggan Thompson, a man facing his own very specific mid-life crisis as he seeks validation both publically and critically by writing, directing and starring in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. This is made all the more difficult thanks to those who surround him – Emma Stone as his daughter who has just emerged from rehab and a whole bunch of Daddy issues thrown into the mix (and very keen to point out that in this modern age of social media, having no online presence is equivalent to not existing); Andrea Risebrough as his slightly off kilter girlfriend who also has a role in the play; Ed Norton as an inflammatory actor who knows the lines by heart but kicks off if anyone interrupts his style of method acting; his ex-wife and now stage co-star (Naomi Watts) who is apparently nothing more than a broken and damaged actress; and of course a theatre critic (Lindsay Duncan) who has a dislike for Hollywood stars encroaching on her turf.

And if all of that wasn’t dysfunctional enough, Riggan is plagued by Birdman, the big screen character he once played and has since sent Riggan into obscurity. Is Birdman Riggan’s id, a hidden aspect of his subconscious made real? Whatever he/it is, it’s great fun to watch, Riggan’s descent into near-madness balanced perfectly with a blackly comic tone that generates more than its fair share of chuckles and wince-worthy moments.

Ed Norton. Method Actor. Style Icon. Fighter.
Ed Norton. Method Actor. Style Icon. Fighter.

The performances are supported by some innovative direction from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, portraying all events in this intimate setting with almost no visible cuts. Instead scenes flow into one another with ease, and from a technical perspective alone it is a film deserving of praise. This combines nicely with all the other elements, including what is apparently a deliberately distracting drum-based soundtrack and some incredibly inviting cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki.

Birdman also succeeds by playing up to actor’s pasts and perceived notions about them, whether this is done deliberately or otherwise. It’s almost impossible to consider Keaton’s role without taking into account his career and role as Tim Burton’s Batman. The parallels are only on the surface rather than having some deep meaning of their own, but it’s still an interesting comparison to draw. The same applies to Edward Norton who has his own fair share of detractors for supposedly being difficult to work with. This verisimilitude goes a long way to adding believability to the characters,

It may have only had its release in the UK on 01 January, but already Birdman stands a chance of being in the top ten films of the year. Not a bad start to the year by any stretch. Now if only we can convince Keaton and Inarritu to make the Birdman 4 film that is mentioned throughout this Birdman. Even with a knowing nod and a wink to the audience, that idea still has serious potential for awesomeness.

Score: 5/5

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