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Review - Birdman

By midlandsmovies, Jan 3 2015 10:32AM

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2015) Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

After the critically lauded Boyhood (which I didn’t like) I entered the critically lauded Birdman with some trepidation but within just a few minutes I felt that I was watching something genuinely special. We begin by following an out-of-the-limelight actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who is attempting to put on a Broadway play after 20 years of being known as the star of a Hollywood superhero franchise called Birdman. After an accident knocks out his underperforming co-star, Keaton is recommended to use the actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who joins the ensemble, yet comes into conflict with all involved especially Keaton himself. As Riggan prepares for the preview shows, he is also seen battling with his relationships including the ever-watchable Emma Stone playing the “hot mess” of a daughter and with Andrea Risenborough (seen in the sci-fi Oblivion) as Keaton’s possibly pregnant girlfriend. The acting is top-notch throughout with brilliant group dynamics and a cast that also includes Naomi Watts as a frustrated actress and Amy Ryan as his ex-wife.

Although Edward Norton will be rightly regarded as playing a great supporting performance the real surprise here is Zach Galifianakis as Keaton’s producer trying to help his client hold it all together. Zach to me is a cinematic jinx for me, playing the same unlikeable idiot in each film but here I felt he was much more suited to the straight man role as the Producer trying to keep it all together emotionally and financially. Although flashes of his comedy were here, it was all part of the story and played with a much lighter touch. The film includes both laugh out loud moments and tenderly played family scenes as well as metaphorical scenes of the metaphysical – as Keaton is shown floating and using telekinesis – which are brilliantly used when he trashes his dressing room and fights his “alter ego”.

You could view the movie as a narrative on Hollywood versus Theatre – there’s plenty of heavy handed moments involving critics as well as YouTube and social media commentary – or as a treatise on getting old and feeling relevant but it’s the private moments and Keaton’s subtle performance that stick with you most. One technical aspect of the film which never took me out of the movie (unlike Boyhood’s unique conceit) was that the film ‘appears’ to be one shot. That’s right, there are no obvious cuts at all in the film– digital trickery plus clever pans like Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ cover the breaks – but it works brilliantly as the camera floats around the actors, up the side of buildings and through windows whilst also using different devices to show the passing of time.

An enigmatic ending open to interpretation is fitting for a film that balances both sides of someone’s self-image and the audience can bring their own views on the story at its conclusion. With a unique style, a group of actors playing to their strengths, a well-played out narrative and an interesting score (by jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez) Birdman is a great achievement and one I recommend you checking out before a no-doubt successful night at the 2014 Oscars.

9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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