Michael Keaton leads a fabulous ensemble of actors in one of the most original films you’ll see in this or any year, BIRDMAN.
Masterful writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has really outdone himself with his new, brilliantly crazy and original feature BIRDMAN – or to give it its full title BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF INNOCENCE). While we’re used to seeing more serious dramatic fare from this film-maker such as Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful, here he surprises us with a movie that has the drama, packed with both pathos and almost farcical elements and the result is fantastic to watch.
Michael Keaton (in a phenomenal and rightly awards-worthy performance) is Riggan Thompson – one-time Hollywood superstar whose primary success came from playing an iconic superhero in a series of films, the BIRDMAN of the title. But Riggan wants to do something more meaningful as an actor than accept the offer to star in Birdman 4 and so he convinces his lawyer and best friend Jake (a superbly straight Zach Galifianakis) to co-produce a Broadway production of a Raymond Carver short story, in which he’ll play the lead. A cast is assembled that includes Riggan’s current and ex-girlfriends Laura and Lesley (a wonderfully neurotic Andrea Riseborough and a terrifically vulnerable Naomi Watts) and a backstage support crew that includes Riggan’s recovering addict daughter Sam (a stellar Emma Stone) acting as his personal assistant and his ex-wife Sylvia (a nuanced Amy Ryan).
With previews on the horizon, a stage accident thankfully rids Riggan of a very untalented co-star but who’ll replace him at such short notice? Help though is at hand as Lesley’s current boyfriend is the dynamic method actor Mike Shiner (an absolutely stunning Edward Norton) – or is it? Events start to spiral out of control for Riggan as opening night approaches, who whilst trying to direct this potential masterpiece, is battling demons of his own, hearing the voice of Birdman in his head, telling him what he should really be doing with his life. Can he re-invent himself in the public’s eyes and make a success in this late period of his career, or should he return to the role that made him famous, that the audience seems to crave, or could there even be another path open to him?
It’s the originality of what you’re watching on the screen that continually amazes. Theatre, acting, and celebrity are put under the microscope in such an inventive way and it’s all represented in one unbroken take (with some very cleverly disguised cuts), the camera swooping along the corridors of the St. James’s Theatre or along the streets and rooftops of Manhattan in bravura style in Emmanuel Lubezki’s gorgeous cinematography.
The acting on display is jaw-droppingly fabulous, from Michael Keaton’s tour-de-force turn to every one of the ensemble mentioned but I also have to tell you about the great cameos from Merritt Weaver as the harassed stage manager and Lindsay Duncan’s coolly acerbic theatre critic. And the scenes between Emma Stone and Edward Norton astound you with their beautifully delicate and poignant quality. There’s a drum score by Antonio Sanchez that powerfully pulses alongside the action and Inarritu masterfully oversees it all with an assured and previously unforeseen impish manner that means just at the moment you feel sorry for Riggan at his plight, you’re also laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Go see this!