“A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”
This quote (seen in the opening scene on the dressing room mirror) is the perfect counter argument to any criticism for or against the film. Birdman defies genre categorising and labelling because the film is intent on being exactly what it is. Sure the film is a unique, darkly funny and feverishly theatrical exploration of a man’s ego and his quest for validation and meaning, but it’s also a visual slice of cinematic ballet. You could scrutinise and evaluate every inch of the script, or you could lose yourself in the technical mastery of its camera work. You can’t go wrong either way.
Mexican writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel) blends realism with absurdism and theatricality with fantasy, to exploit and comment on the tenuously fine line that separates art, entertainment and all the pretension that lies somewhere in-between.
The film is also a self-reflexive and intellectually challenging dissection of the current state of the entertainment industry. Inarritu is determined to douse fiery criticism on all critics, audiences, performers and artists alike, before turning the flame and mirror on himself, wondering about his own creation and its quest for relevance.
Star Michael Keaton bursts back into the public’s eye with an all or nothing performance as Riggan Thomson, a washed up former action star, suffering from a seriously unhealthy existential crisis. Throwing what little credibility and star power he has left, Riggan attempts to reignite his career and his manhood, in the form of a Broadway show that he himself wrote, directed and will star in.
He’s trying to matter again. But he doesn’t. And nobody cares.
The connection between the fictional Birdman franchise and Keaton’s own Batman experience, make for an incredibly raw and personal performance from the star. The long continuous shots cannot hide the genuine emotions that are exposed on Keaton’s weathered and aged frame. Does Keaton lament or long for his former glory? If nothing else, an Academy award is his for the taking.
Despite its one-man-show mentality, Keaton is surrounded by an array of first-class actors and actresses who do more than merely fill-in, when Keaton’s character needs a moment off screen. Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Naomi Watts and a show-stealing Edward Norton all act as external agitators working both for and against Keaton’s descent into self delusion and obscurity.
The hypnotic and breathtaking camerawork from Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki creates a transfixing sensation as it seamlessly swoops and hovers from moment to moment, actor to actor, creating a flawless continuity to the action. This artificial liveness draws the audience deeper into the crevices of a desperate man’s crumbling mental capacity.
Backed by an outstanding rhythmic drum score that helps to pump up the tension and stakes even further, Birdman goes for broke at every moment and is the very definition of ambitious. Repeat viewings will be mandatory. A spectacular achievement that is what it is.