Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: West End 26th December 2014 Nationwide 1st January 2015
It’s not often that you enter a cinema to see a film and you leave visibly shaking. It’s happened only a few times, normally after seeing something harrowing or disturbing. Not the case with Birdman. I left shaking because I had just experienced an amazing, bitingly funny masterpiece. A film that has so much to offer as well as a career best performance from its charismatic lead.
Riggan Thompson’s is a man trying to rebuild his career. A former star of the superhero series Birdman, Riggan wants to prove himself by putting on a production he has written, directed and is producing on Broadway. As the days tick away till opening night, Riggan is facing all kinds of problems: a lead actor with a serious ego problem, a girlfriend who maybe pregnant, a daughter who he finds hard to relate to and a play that is spiraling out of control. on top of all that, Birdman still hangs over his head.
Alejandro González Iñárritu has directed some very cinematic films, 21 Grams and Babel to name two, in which the Mexican director plays with time and narrative structure. Here he pulls out all the stops Not only is it his most accessible and lightest film, it also uses a very clever trick to keep us engrossed. Set in and around the St James Theatre on Broadway, Iñárritu films the whole movie as if it’s one single shot, cleverly hiding any cuts, which allows a strange fluid of movement for the actors. They move from setting to setting with the camera following them down the corridors and backstage areas and into the busy New York street.
Using a trick like that, you’d think the rest of the film might be in trouble. You’d be wrong. This just helps with a movie that is just as perfect as a film could be. The script crackles with dialogue that demands it win every writing award around. Put together like a series of duologues, it’s bounces from quick-fire wit to heart-breaking pathos. It’s a real pleasure to the ear.
Even the music helps set the mood. A wild-cat jazz score with outbursts of drumming to signify the pressure building within Thompson’s world never once intrudes to the point of annoyance yet plays just an important part to the drama on-screen.
So with everything perfectly in place, it would be amiss if the performances didn’t work. Well they do, each as important as the next. Iñárritu has picked some terrific actors. Naomi Watts, whose career of late hasn’t been on track (Diana and her dire accent in St Vincent) is firmly on solid ground as one of Riggan’s cast members, while the underrated Amy Ryan, as Riggan’s caring ex, gets to show just how good she is, while Andrea Riseborough adds some real sparkle as Riggan’s girlfriend.
Zach Galifianakis, normally seen as the annoying one in The Hangover films, gets to underplay as Riggan’s frustrated producer and agent. It’s a controlled performance from a comedian who is often given too much room to move. Just shows that if a director puts the reins on someone, they can deliver. Emma Stone, as Riggan’s daughter, is also given the best role she has had in years and she is superb. Then there’s Edward Norton, who is magnificent as the egomaniac Mike Shiner. You’d imagine that a man who comes into the frame with an attitude that he’s right and everyone else is wrong, you’d want to hate him but Norton has created such a charismatic creation, you allow him these flaws without hating him. He also has a neat line in comic timing.
It would seem hard for anyone to really take control of a film with so much good in it, yet Michael Keaton does. As the troubled star, Keaton is amazing, showing a man who is spending the whole film on the edge. He commands every scene, taking us on the journey of a man who could snap at any minute. It’s his greatest performance to date and shows us what an incredible comic actor he is as well as a strong dramatic one. If you only have one reason to see this film, make it to see his awesome performance.
Birdman ticks every single box. Full of biting black humour, commentary on celebrity, the theatre, stereotyping, families, relationships and other psychosis, this is as perfect a film can get. I get the impression that come awards season, this is going to sweep up big time. Deservedly so too. An absolute triumph.