Film Review – Birdman (2014)

Birdman movie 2014 Michael Keaton

Birdman

or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton

Review by Jordan (yep, I’m still here!)

Birdman is truly a technical marvel, showcasing an intricate eye for detail and precision through meticulous editing, brave cinematography and a joyous musical score led by Brian Blade’s up-tempo drum composition.

Directed with verve and energy by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), and boasting a darkly comedic undertone at the expense of Michael Keaton’s washed-up action star Riggan, here is a critically acclaimed film that will strike all the right notes with cinema connoisseurs and the hardware-minded, but through offering little outside it’s themes of identity and purpose, and relying heavily on its means of production may alienate the rest.

Aging and losing touch with celebrity and social culture, former star of the “Birdman” (read: Batman) franchise Riggan (Keaton) has thrown caution and reputation to the wind to write, direct and star in a literary Broadway play. Preparation goes from bad to worse when the supporting actor is almost killed by a fallen floodlight, and just when his lawyer/production manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is about to have a nervous breakdown and Riggan’s alter ego is threatening to take over entirely, enter acting prodigy Mike (Edward Norton) to save the day…

Unfortunately though, he only somewhat saves the day, as Mike’s appearance brings an even more intense level of stress, as he further strains the relationships between Riggan and his leading lady Lesley (Naomi Watts) and daughter Sam (Emma Stone), who is fresh out of rehab and seeking any excuse to relapse.

The creative process can indeed be a terrifying one.

Witnessing Michael Keaton parodying art imitating life as his mind deteriorates and actions become more and more unpredictable is truly wonderful, as its seems so long since his last great role. His performance stands as one of the best of 2014, emitting frustration, despair, anger and self-loathing with subtle movements in his weathered brow and intensity in his weary eyes, with the other standout being Norton, whose superb arrogance shines through even when being punched in the face while wearing nothing but underwear. Watts (a Iñárritu  favorite after appearing in 21 Grams also) and Galifianakis (cast against type) are serviceable, while Emma Stone slightly disappoints in a cliched portrayal of a very cliched character, with her casting also being the most obvious an uninspired.

Birdman is indeed a masterwork in production technique and a character piece par excellence, but it is no masterpiece, choosing to separate itself from the audience in implementing art-house elements and an introverted feel (never does it feel that this tale could take place in a habitable world, but rather a melodramatic version of one). Once the curtains closed and all the blood, sweat and tears had been shed, I applauded and left the cinema, content having been entertained but not lost in the moment and events nor wishing to linger on them.

As the slightly poignant note on Riggan’s dressing room mirror says though: “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

4 YouTube sensations out of 5

 

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38 responses to “Film Review – Birdman (2014)

  1. Great review! Though the events themselves seem a bit far fetched, I do feel that the underlying message of a man wanting to leave something significant behind, to have made an impact, is one that anyone can relate to. That is the most important thing that I have taken from the film and the part that I feel will ensure that the movie becomes a contemporary classic.

  2. Great read! I need to see this, if only for the fantastic editing and the resulting long tracking shot trick I’ve been hearing about.

  3. Great review and I realise I totally agree with your assessment – it’s easy to forget through the fantastic performances and the fast pace and the humorous script that it’s not a piece of *depth* to be remembered or lingered upon.

  4. While I don’t deny the performances in this film were fantastic, in the end I left the theater angry and frustrated by a movie that attacks popular movies for being one-note wonders, but at the same time didn’t say anything new to say. I have read/watched the story of the movie star struggling to be a “real” actor on the STAGE so many times. After all the rave reviews, I just wanted so much more, I wanted to be moved by this picture, but instead it just felt like the same old story. But, yeah, Keaton was good and it’s probably his turn to get an Oscar.

    • Thanks for the great comment! I certainly wasn’t moved either, and agree that the story is nothing to write home about, but I was entertained thanks to the great film techniques used.
      Jordan

    • Solid review man, your love for the film really shines through! I have a feeling it may actually not pick up too many awards, but hey, when it comes to films being remembered and revered that truly doesn’t matter. The Theory of Everything appears to be the one to beat.
      Jordan

      • Hey, that’s a huge compliment so thank you! I completely agree. Although don’t surprised if Boyhood squeaks in some awards as well

  5. Who is Brian Blade? The drum composition I swear was scored by Antonio Sanchez; the same guy whose work was ridiculously snubbed by the Oscars.

    • I also tend to find your perception of Emma Stone here a little off. She was arguable the best performance of them all. I couldn’t disagree more calling her a a fucking cliche.

      • I believe Blade worked with Sanchez on the drum composition? Blade being a musician I’m more familier with.
        To me a real shame of Birdman was whether intentionally or not, making each female character completely reliant on Males for a sense of purpose and happiness, with each of them falling into despair or loneliness without them. Emma Stones misunderstood, neglected, rehabilitated and drug taking daughter with an apparent wisdom beyond her years and a soft heart hidden beneath layers of bleached hair and cigarette smoke to me screams of stereotypes and lazy plotting, as her real purpose is simply to serve as another source of frustration for Keaton. Calling her performance the best is like praising a Eurovision song for its originality.

      • Oh, for sure man. I was (and still am) totally into your review of this feature. There’s a lot of shit going on here. 🙂

  6. I thought Birdman was terrific, with such a rich underbelly debating prominent themes such as the modern movie industry, superheroes, relationships and instability. For me Emma Stone was really good, but as you say the character is too clichéd. Top work Jordan!

    Adam.

    • Hey Adam, sounds like you enjoyed this a tad more than me! That’s not to say I wasn’t absolutely taken with the incredible technical accomplishments though.
      Cheers, Jordan

  7. Great review!! I just watched it and I can totally understand your point of view! At first it was a bit confusing, but it definitely carries the audience away! Keaton’s performance was absolutely brilliant, although so far Cumberbatch (the immitation game) has won me over! I’m going to watch The Theory of Everything soon to see if Redmayne wins my heart in the end!
    But seriously now…the scene with the jellyfish was absolutely unnecessary!!!!!

    • Haha, apparently the Jellyfish has very important symbolism here (don’t ask me what), but I suppose if you have a phobia that may not be what you take away from it..
      I fear that Redmayne and The Theory of Everything will be the Oscar darling, but I also have a sneaking suspicion Budapest Hotel will be a dark horse. I’m glad you liked Birdman too!
      Jordan

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