Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu || Produced by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, John Lesher, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole
Screenplay by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo || Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan
Music by: Antonio Sanchez || Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki || Edited by: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 119 minutes
Every year or so, the Academy Awards are stuffed to the brim with either depressing dramas about demographic oppression, or boring, cliched foreign films (or both); these films typically receive far more attention and adoration than their formulaic Oscar-bait screenplays warrant. I often spend half the awards season as well as the show itself rolling my eyes as film journalists and academics drool over these dry, dialogue-powered snoozers that threaten to suck all the fun out of cinema, and this year looks no different. However, sometimes the critical sphere gets things right and forms a radiant consensus on a sidestream film that truly deserves it, and this year one of the biggest, most deserving favorites likely to take home Oscar gold is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. This sardonic yet heartfelt multi-character study is both an immensely well-written narrative and a technical marvel, combining both screenwriting prowess and irresistible cinematography into a near seamless whole. If this film goes home with the Best Picture Oscar, I will be absolutely fine with that.
Birdman tells the story of a washed-up Hollywood action star, played by Michael Keaton of all people, who made it big off the fictional titular superhero franchise and has since become a forgotten, near penniless has-been who’s desperate to retain any sense of cultural relevancy or artistic credibility. Keaton fits the role like a glove for obvious reasons and gives arguably the best performance of his career, as does co-star Zach Galifianakas in a startlingly serious (and physically trim!) supporting role, and the rest of the cast from Edward Norton to Emma Stone to Naomi Watts are all important, complex parts of this well crafted, complicated tale of personable humanity.
Inevitably, the film’s now famous “one-take story” loses some of its charm by the film’s final moments, and the ambiguous, multilayered nature of the story grows both confusing and painfully obvious on occasion, but as a whole Birdman is one of the most resoundingly fun and intellectual times I’ve had at the cinemas this year. Alejandro Iñárritu’s (I have no idea how to pronounce that, by the way) film is the golden combination of smarts and excitement (yep, even better than “dumb and fun” blockbusters), sporting a cinematic personality as entertaining and complicated as its moral symbolism. There have been few, if any, films in recent memory that utilized long takes, fluid camera movement, and tracking shots as well as this film does to convey narrative meaning and character development. Much like in Scorsese’s best films, Iñárritu’s (seriously, how do you say that?) amazing camerawork isn’t just for show, it’s used as an important tool to tell the story at hand, to flesh out narrative themes and expand upon character analyses, which is what directors are supposed and expected to do with the screenplays they’re given.
Aside from its great camerawork, most all of the characters are fleshed out surprisingly well and can be interpreted any number of ways given how one fits the open-ended story in their head. Galifianakas is perhaps my favorite supporting character as the law-abiding voice of reason, but Emma Stone and Edward Norton are on fire as Keaton’s rebellious, believably angst-ridden daughter and eccentric, uncontrollable partner, respectively. I’m not sure if its the script or just Inarritu’s acting direction or both, but everyone in this cast does an outstanding job in their roles and bats well above their career acting average, which is saying quite a lot given how talented most of these actors are.
With regards to the movie’s already (in?)famously ambiguous narrative, I have this to say: If open-ended/heavily symbolic movies were aligned on a gradient chart, less ambiguous (but also less confusing and dense) movies would be on the left of a continuum that ended with the most ambiguous and complex (but also the most confusing and indecisive) movies on the right as follows…
Less Ambiguous and Confusing More Ambiguous and Confusing
In other words, Birdman is about middle-of-the-road when it comes to complex, heavily symbolic artsy films. It gives you plenty to think about while rarely confusing you to the point of frustration, and that’s mostly a good thing. So now that no one is confused, go see the damn movie already!
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Innarritu directs the hell out of a smart script that makes fun of everything from Hollywood and its current obsession with superhero films to pop culture social media to Broadway snobbery to has-been (but still totally awesome) screen-actors like Keaton himself. These tracking shots and long takes are to die for. Speaking of Keaton, he’s the man here in his most personal film yet, and what a great performance he gives. He’s bolstered by perhaps the year’s best supporting cast other than Gone Girl (2014), and they in turn are supported by a bizarre but fitting percussion-heavy soundtrack that’s anything but generic.
— However… The ending (and a few other scenes) lose some of the delicious ambiguity that the rest of the film uses so well.
? People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit. 🙂