I have to tell you, I had almost forgotten who Michael Keaton was. I literally can’t name the last movie I’ve seen him, other than Batman and Beetlejuice. That’s not to say I don’t think or know that he is a good actor. I know he’s been in plenty of movies. I just couldn’t think of any. So Birdman kind of snuck up on me. Apparently I was the only one. The film is a black comedy directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and follows a washed up actor who once played the famous superhero Birdman, and is now trying to prove himself as an artist and appease his ego by adapting, directing and starring in his own Broadway Play.
The cast of the film, considering it’s indie limited release is remarkable. Michael Keaton in the lead, as I mentioned, supported by Emma Stone as his daughter Sam, Edward Norton as his acting co-star Mike, Naomi Watts as a young actress and Zach Galifianakis as his best friend and assistant. That’s quite the crew and there’s more admirable support too. The remarkable thing about Keaton and Norton in their roles, is that there seem to be strange parallels to their real lives, which I think for them adds to the comedy. Keaton of course is largely known for his role in Batman, which was many, many years ago. Norton has a bit of a reputation as being tough to work with and dramatic, which he portrays to perfection here. The other characters have clear personas that we can all relate to as well. They’re in your face with what kind of person they are but somehow still have all the subtleties of a great character. It’s a testament to the writing, that each character manages to surprise us with their actions or reactions at one point or another. Only to confirm our original thoughts about them later. It’s a character roller coaster that is great to watch.
Adding to the roller coaster theme, perhaps the highlight of the film for me, at least technically, is the continuous take technique that Iñárritu implements throughout. His clever editing and camerawork basically takes us through the entire film in one take. One big long shot (which I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of). Some of it, where it’s taking place in one time period, seems to genuinely be one incredible long take, where we seem to be on some kind of roller track, following the characters, like we were on a ride at Disney World. Where time frames change, there are clever uses of shots melting together that add to the effect. It creates this sense of chaos and madness around this production that this desperate man is putting on, and it’s one of the most important technical choices I’ve seen in a film in a long time. Hat’s off to the film makers for that.
The plot is in many ways very simple, but in terms of the drama it is far from simple. So many characters with their own little agendas and problems, but most of which are centered around the same thing, just from different angles. That’s ego, and attention. Meaning something in this world. We all check our Facebook likes. We all want to get recognition for things that we do at work, even though if someone asked us why that is, I’m not sure we could explain. That’s what the film is rooted in, and presenting it from a ton of slightly different points of view allows for the theme to be explored completely, but without seeming like it’s all too neat and tidily presented.
The performances, of Norton, Stone and Keaton in particular, on top of all the technical feats, well done special effects and laughs, are what really ice the cake. All of them are fantastic. You don’t know whether to love or hate them, but you can’t take your eyes off of them either way. I’m a big Emma Stone fan and I’d argue this is her best work. Norton has always been great, and he shows it here. It looked like he had a great time doing it. Keaton proved to me, or at least reminded me, that he’s a great actor, and we’ll see if this jump starts him into any bigger roles.
A wonderful, manic, chaotic and heartfelt film that has some incredible parts which manage to add up to an equally incredible whole. Watch out for this one at the Oscars.