D: Alejandro González Iñárritu. DP: Emmanuel Lubezki. W: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris & Armando Bo. Starring: Michael Keaton/Naomi Watts/Emma Stone/Edward Norton/Andrea Riseborough/Zach Galifianakis/Amy Ryan/Merrit Wever/Lindsay Duncan.
Leading a formidable and competitive awards season is the much talked about Birdman. Helmed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (2003’s 21 Grams, 2006’s Babel, 2010’s Biutiful), Birdman is a glorious baptism in cinema.
Haunted by his previous commercial comic book film success, Riggan Thomas (ironically played by Batman graduate Michael Keaton) attempts to open a play on Broadway. Adapted, directed, and acted by Keaton’s Riggan the financial and emotional stress of the venture creeps in on him along with the drama that always escalates in the world backstage. But the backstage plot is merely a way to enter the actor’s psychosis that is attempting to face his failures at fatherhood, disconnection with his career, and his ultimate fears.
Keaton is at his best here. Last seen for me in this year’s forgettable Robocop, his washed up Riggan is as real as they get. Iñárritu’s use of long takes and roaming cameras does not leave a lot of room for actors to hide anything. Keaton literally and emotionally bares it all, giving Riggan’s haggard life emotional resonance and a core that allows you to root for him despite it all. Riggan is also plagued by hearing the ghost of his past, a Birdman voice that badgers and sometimes champions him. A difficult conceit to pull off, but Keaton makes it work for laughs and for tears.
Emma Stone plays Keaton’s troubled daughter Sam. Finally her pale skinniness and fretful saucer eyes fit into the role she is playing. She holds her own amidst veterans and her chemistry with Edward Norton is on point. Norton’s Mike is deliciously depraved here and he is excellent sparring partner for Keaton. Regardless if the rumors of this performance being a take on himself as a ‘difficult’ actor, his physicality lifts the script off the page. Not to be forgotten as usual, Naomi Watts brings her shimmer to grateful Broadway newcomer, Lesley. Other than a silly dressing room scene, she’s great. Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan also bring in excellent supporting roles that ground Birdman.
Birdman‘s sound editing and score are exceptional (score by Antonio Sanchez). The drum solos alone are fabulous and harken back to another excellent film of this year, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera work is exuberant, New York City looks glamorous and dirty all at the same time. The long takes allow the story to breathe and provides a great pacing to the film so that when cuts do come they re-energize you. Ultimately, Birdman is not to be missed and for a story about a washed up actor that is even more astounding.