dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
It starts with drumming. There is very little music other than the constant rhythm of the drums as they thump in the background of the one hundred and nineteen minute take that is “Birdman”. While ever-present, the drumming is never overwhelming, and never where it is not necessary – it adds to the scenes instead, creating a thrumming tension that leaves the viewer on the edge of her seat. It follows Michael Keaton and Edward Norton and Emma Stone as they walk through the seemingly endless corridors of the St. James Theatre where the company is putting on a production of an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” written, directed and starring Birdman himself, Riggan Thompson, played by Michael Keaton.
Along with the drumming, the sheer surreality of the film, combined with the very clever editing so it looks like one long take, could have ruined it, and yet, in Iñárritu’s capable hands, this film is a masterpiece. The Mexican director creates here a world that is realistic and completely surreal all at once, and the editing is so seamless, it’s like we’re a character in the film, walking along Riggan or Mike through the theatre, witnessing conversations and meltdowns. And, again, the added score by Antonio Sanchez only builds up tension.
The film is also visually stunning. Muted colours contrast with brightness, the greyness of the back alleys of Manhattan against the incandescence of Broadway signs and Time Square billboards. Even the theatre itself, the bland corridors and clothes against the bright greens and yellows and blues of the stage set and lights. Everything feels incredibly fake and real at the same time, and you never really know what is actually happening, or if it is all the dreams and hallucinations of a man gone crazy. The presence of Birdman hovering and looming over Riggan’s every step only adds to the confusion instead of generating any answers. And answers is something we really don’t get in a film like this, nor is it something we need, because it’s not what this is about, really. It’s about theatre and acting and caricatures and characters and Hollywood and Twitter. It’s about being old and judgemental and suddenly realising this is a world where things happen lightening-fast and information travels in mere seconds, and there is nothing you can do about it. It’s about obsolesce and irrelevance, and Iñárritu deals with it with absolute nuance and subtlety.
The acting is also phenomenal. Michael Keaton playing the lead character, always plagued by the ghost of the superhero he played in the past, before superheroes were really cool and enough to make a proper career out of. This is mirrored against his own superhero days as Tim Burton’s Batman. His Riggan is wonderful. He can be a dick, but also sweet, and the way he plays all the mental issues that plague Riggan’s mind truly is fantastic. And also his relationship with his daughter, Sam, played by Emma Stone, who is working as his assistant after she got out of rehab. They both argue and bicker, and it takes a lot of unexpected turns of events for them to actually love each other, and that is a true and wonderful moment, so beautifully played by two fantastically skilled actors.
But skilled actors are absolutely not missing from this film. Along with Stone and Keaton, there are Naomi Watts and Andrea Risenborough who play the two lead actresses of the play, Zach Galifianakis, who is Riggan’s exasperated lawyer, Lindsay Duncan, the important theatre reviewer who hates the show, and Edward Norton, the co-lead actor, playing very much a caricature of himself, a very difficult actor to work with, but who delivers wonderful performances. All the performances in this were outstanding, and hopefully they will be recognised come award season (but probably won’t because we all know how Hollywood works, as the film itself describes).
With powerful drumming and beautiful images, Iñárritu creates a world we want to visit again and again, and it never overstays its welcome. It is mesmerising and heartbreaking, and it really has been a very long time since I’ve seen a film that made me so entranced just by merely existing, as there is little plot to speak of overall. Truly a wonderful experience that I hope many will share after the film is released in the New Year.
review by Mariana Duarte