MARKELLUS’S VERDICT 4/5
Let me start off by saying Michael Keaton will most likely win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He most definitely WILL win the Golden Globe for best Dramatic Actor, because the Hollywood Foreign Press loves comeback stories. He really does turn in a mesmerizing performance. The story is about an aging Hollywood actor who is famous for playing a superhero character in a million dollar franchise. He now wants to write, direct, and star in a Broadway drama so he will be taken seriously by the public. Needless to say the odds are stacked against him. The troubles in his life are becoming front and center as he tries to successfully pull off his comeback.
There is a few “inside Hollywood” lines that references actors who are now appearing in superhero franchises.(Keaton’s character wants hire an actor for his play like “Jeremy Renner” but can’t because now he’s an Avenger. “Geez, they put a cape on him too?”) This is essentially a backstage drama, but done in a way that is just jaw dropping in some of the scenes. The director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, films the movie in what looks like one long continuous take. The camera follows the actors in and out of rooms as it goes from scene to scene. This technique provides an intimacy that makes you feel that you are really there with them along for the ride.
All the performances are great here, especially Keaton’s. This is definitely a showcase of all of his talents. Edward Norton is really funny as a method acting D-bag who is going through his own struggles. Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis are both fantastic in their roles.
This movie wont be for everybody, Without giving too much away, this movie has some pretty weird scenes that I’m not sure would make sense, no matter who explained them to me, but technically and acting wise, it’s stunning. Michael Keaton may not be my ideal version of Bruce Wayne, but there is absolutely no way of denying he’s an amazing actor.
ADAM’S VERDICT 4/5
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman made a large buzz on the Film Festival circuit before (finally) securing a wider release. Getting a lot of word of mouth, not only for the quality film making and interesting continuous sequence look, but also because of star Michael Keaton. Keaton, probably still best known for his turn as Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 landmark film does a fantastic job playing an aging actor, past his prime and out of his depth in Birdman.
Riggan (Michael Keaton), a once prominent action star is trying his hand at being the lead actor in a play he wrote the adaptation of and is also directing. The play is a project to show the world, and more importantly himself, that Riggan isn’t a relic of the past who can only act in a rubber suit. To paraphrase Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), that he matters. Riggan’s agent and best friend, Jake (Zach Galifianakis), is stressed with trying to balance actor’s egos, an ever changing cast, and other stresses that go along with opening a major Broadway production. Mike (Edward Norton) a true performer, lover of the stage, and arrogant actor is brought in last minute to replace a cast member that dropped out. Mike’s love of the craft could make or break Riggan’s play. Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Laura (Andrea Riseborough) round out the rest of both the play’s cast and the movie’s cast.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may not be a household name for many casual movie goers but a quick search on IMDB will undoubtedly ring a few bells for any movie fan. He directed movies like 21 Grams and Bable, just to give you an idea. Trying something that isn’t often attempted, Inarritu shot all of Birdman in what appears to be one long sequence, a single take. This technique was most famously done by Alfred Hitchcock in the fantastic movie Rope. More impressively in Hitchcock’s time was the limitation of a reel of film, being only so long forced Hitchcock to make cuts and hide them to keep up the look of a single take. Inarritu had technology on his side and used a few techniques, like time lapses, to keep the continuous sequence. In addition to the continuous sequence, the shots and framing are outstanding. The camera feels alive. The angles are creative and follow the action like audiences bobbing their heads back and forth at Wimbledon. The only time the camera is at rest is when the days are transitioning during very well executed time lapses.
Michael Keaton is famous for playing an iconic super hero thirty years prior, he is also an aging actor. The similarities to Riggan stop there. Keaton is a steadily working actor who had a career before he donned a rubber suit and worked steadily his whole life after. Keaton is a fantastic actor who does Drama as well as he does comedy and can now add crazy to his resume. Riggan’s is clearly unhinged. Talking to his alter-ego of Birdman throughout most of the film it is clear. Edward Norton is pure Broadway, New York City, ‘starving’ artist. Starving isn’t literal since it is established that his character, Mike, is successful and wide regarded, but Norton plays the stereotype perfectly. Arrogant yet insecure off stage, when it is time for Mike to act he is unmatched. Riggan deals with the craziness of the actor to escalate his play. Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough are also all amazing performers. There really isn’t a weak actor in the entire movie, but a special mention should be made for Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis is most famously known for his role in the very successful Hangover franchise. Playing an awkward idiotic man-child Galifianakis is incredibly funny. In Birdman he sheds the comedy (and more than a few pounds) to become a full fledged actor. While not an actor within the movie Galifianakis does a fantastic job playing the straight man alongside so much insanity.
Sadly, Birdman is guilty of going a bit too far on some things and stepping over a few thin lines that separate brilliant from absurd. The film has Riggan imagining himself with psychic powers, the ability to fly, and being truly more than a simple man. These instances are completely unneccesary. It is clear that Riggan is teetering on the edge because of Keaton’s amazing performance. The inner voice was all that was needed to drive the message home. The added science fiction of it all makes it seem like the director didn’t have enough faith in his actor to get the job done. There is one larger than life sequence that is supposed to be the turning point for Riggan. The entire scene amounts to nothing, and even makes Riggan’s next big move seem out of character. This scene seems to have been shot entirely for the benefit of the trailers. There is also some imbalances in the characters. So much time is spent with Mike and his own version of mental illness that when the character disappears from the movie it feels like a loose end that will never be tied up. Mike isn’t dismissed in the form of an open ending or ambiguous results, he is dropped outright.
With only a few faults to speak of, Birdman is an incredibly directed, acted, and written drama. The continuous sequence look is a technical achievement as well as a totally engrossing way to keep audiences latched to the screen. We are so trained to look for breaks when one doesn’t come we practically forget to blink. Michael Keaton is mesmerizing, Edward Norton is commanding.
Review via Sit Down, Shut Up.