Insightful, inventive and delightfully eccentric, Birdman marks a strong return to the big screen for Alejandro González Iñárritu, says Milo Nesbitt
Michael Keaton plays a washed-up actor trying desperately to recapture the fame he achieved years earlier – with the role of superhero Birdman – by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s novel What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Birdman is now a role he despises and which acts as a constant negative voice inside his head, a permanent devil on his shoulder. It’s perhaps not the most original of premises, but Iñárritu skillfully turns this into a multi-faceted, ambitious story.
Keaton (as Riggan Thompson) gives a sublime performance, careering from moving to hilarious but remaining compelling, and is helped by Emma Stone’s acerbic portrayal of his daughter Sam, a human reminder of his personal failings, and Edward Norton’s detestable and highly watchable actor who plays the lead in Thompson’s play.
The film is shot exquisitely; the use of negative space and the seamless editing (it is made to look like it was shot in one long take) combine to give the film a beautifully claustrophobic feel, compounded by the jittery and tense drum soundtrack. The perfectly used surrealist touches (eg Riggan imagining himself performing telekinesis) are subtly powerful, conveying an impressive amount.
Birdman is deliberately, spectacularly self-indulgent; whilst this makes for a truly entertaining movie, it veers slightly too far into unneeded melodrama on occasion, and a couple of scenes (later on in the film) are of dubious necessity, or at least drag on for too long. Furthermore, the ending is tiresome and weak, not fitting of the quality of the rest of the film.
But let’s not forget, too, the film’s own coup de theatre. Birdman is relentlessly satirical. Nothing, not even itself, escapes the semi-mocking lens, and as a result there are some genuinely thought-provoking questions raised about art and humanity.
There’s a scene in which Riggan walks through Manhattan with Birdman flying beside him. “People, they love blood. They love action,” he snipes. “Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bull****.” He could easily be talking about both Riggan’s play and Birdman itself, and this is one of the many times the boundaries of art and reality are obscured in the film.
Birdman is profound and unorthodox in equal measure, and the end product is a masterpiece.
In cinemas now