Birdman is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts.
Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a faded movie star famous for playing a classic superhero with the same name as this film. Thomson attempts to rekindle his fire and create a name for himself other than “Birdman” by adapting a short story to the stage with himself in the lead role.
The film follows Riggan as he explores around this production before, during and after the previews and opening night and when I say that the film follows him, it really does follow him.
The film is made to look as if it’s shot in one continuous take by shooting many very long takes and cutting from one to the other very subtly. This was done by master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who has now won the Oscar for Best Cinematography three years in a row for Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant. Lubezki deserves these awards as these films have great visuals with different styles; Gravity with its brilliant representation of space, The Revenant with its stunning landscapes and Birdman with its vibrant colour and the aforementioned long takes.
The idea to execute Birdman‘s story in one seemingly continuous take wasn’t Lubezki’s, it was Iñárritu’s. It was also Iñárritu’s responsibility to make sure that the cast worked with this long-take concept and they worked with it brilliantly.
Every actor in this movie gives a great performance. Emma Stone delivers a strong performance as a character type that I’d never seen her play before. She’s mostly known for playing either comedic roles or “the girl next door”.
Edward Norton places one more terrific performance in his so-far perfect record with Birdman. It is said that his character, a difficult to work with actor who’s arrogant as well as talented, is slightly based on his life. If this is true, it is still a credit to him that he turned in such a superb performance.
Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly good in an unusually serious role.
Naomi Watts gives the least comedic performance in Birdman. I feel that this is a slight disadvantage for the film. Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, as serious as their characters were, had some funny lines whereas Naomi Watts was just a little too humourless. It slightly dampened the mood of the film for me.
Michael Keaton, like Edward Norton, is playing a character who mirrors the actor’s life in some ways. He would’ve been a deserving winner for the Oscar for Best Lead Actor. His performance is funny, emotional and most importantly, highly believable.
Is Birdman a comedy? Is Birdman a drama? Is Birdman a thought-provoking indie masterpiece? I’d say that Birdman attempts to be all of these with slightly jumbled results.
The comedy is good but not hilarious, the drama is there but not highly engaging and the thought-provocation isn’t all that provoking. The writers should’ve decided beforehand on what type of movie they were making before they made it.
Iñárritu’s decision to shoot Birdman as if it were one-take does add to the feeling that Birdman is a play but what kind of play? I don’t think there is a play out there which culminates in Michael Keaton flying through New York.
The performances are strong however some characters required a bit of tuning before being portrayed. The cinematography is vibrantly colourful however the story tone was dark. The concept of the single-take was interesting yet it’s effect is still debatable. And the genres are individually present yet required better orchestration.
Birdman should definitely have been a nominee for Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars but I don’t think it should’ve won. Boyhood was the superior choice.
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