A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.
‘Birdman’ is one of the film’s I’ve been looking forward to seeing for some time now, thanks to a combination of glowing reviews, a terrific trailer and a director who I really like in Alejandro González Iñárritu. It stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor most famous for portraying the fictional comic book character ‘Birdman’, as he attempts to adapt a Raymond Carver story for the stage amidst a series of professional and personal problems. Keaton is an inspired choice to play Thomson, given his real life career which mirrors Thomson to a more extreme extent after his role as Batman in Tim Burton’s films 25 years ago, and he puts in the performance of his career. One of the biggest strengths of the film is the terrific ensemble, which is perhaps no surprise given Iñárritu’s past experience with ensemble dramas such as ‘Amores Perros‘, ‘21 Grams‘ and ‘Babel‘, which told connected stories across different locations (a bit like ‘Crash’, but good).
‘Birdman’ is a triumph on almost every level, from the stunning performances to the terrific direction which gives the impression of one continuous take (albeit set over a few days). The choice to avoid traditional cuts adds to the feel of a play and creates a sense of momentum that never lets up, whilst adding to the intense and claustrophobic feel of Riggan’s internal problems. Keaton is excellent at the heart of it all, as an actor who is putting everything on the line for the success of the play, whilst struggling with production issues and deeper mental problems. His past career as a comic book star hangs over him, both metaphorically and literally through voices in his head, and the film is in essence about the human need to be admired and respected, which is Riggan’s ultimate aim through this play.
I touched upon the brilliance of the ensemble, and each actor plays their part to perfection, particularly those playing against type such as Emma Stone as his daughter and assistant, a recovering drug addict with many of the same problems, and Zach Galifianakis as the producer trying to hold the show together. Edward Norton is also superb and he injects some manic energy to proceedings as a talented but troublesome actor drafted in late in the day to fill a problematic part who clashes with Riggan about the direction of the play.
‘Birdman’ is funny, technically terrific with a great story and outstanding performances, and it’s highly likely to yield many nominations over the next few weeks. An excellent film to begin the year with!
Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Merritt Wever and Lindsay Duncan