January 30, 2015
Riggan Thomas was an actor who is remembered only for a masked flying superhero he played decades back. Now much older, he is obsessed to prove his relevance as an actor today by producing, directing and starring in a revival of a serious dramatic play on Broadway. His quest for artistic excellence and recognition is challenged by family issues, problematic co-stars, scathing critics and the ghost of his own past Hollywood success.
Michael Keaton is an inspired choice to play Riggan Thomas. He seemed like he was playing out his own career arc onscreen. This actor who is known mainly for playing the first iconic cinematic Batman back in 1989. Of course he had other good films like "Beetlejuice" and "My Life", but it will always be "Batman" he is remembered for. As Riggan, Keaton displayed his full range as a desperate actor on the cusp of insanity.
The supporting cast is also very impressive. Edward Norton plays the charismatic and irascible Mike Shiner. His deadpan delivery of the film's most absurd lines was incredibly on point. Emma Stone shines as Riggan's rebellious daughter fresh out of rehab. Her enigmatic smile at the end will puzzle you and inspire discussions.
Zach Galifianakis veers from his usual comic schtick to play Riggan's manager Jake. Naomi Watts plays Lesley, Mike's girlfriend who was making her Broadway debut in Riggan's seemingly doomed play. The very elegant Andrea Riseborough plays Laura, Riggan's current girlfriend. Amy Ryan plays Sylvia, Riggan's sympathetic ex-wife.
The story in its barest bones may be familiar -- the struggle of actors between Hollywood commercialism and the "legitimate" theater stage. In "Birdman", director Alejandro Inarritu, whom I had long admired for his complex films like "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams," tells the story from the point of view of an aging actor going mad. This approach led to unforgettable over-the-top images and fantastic situations that set this film apart. Its jazzy percussion-driven musical score will further unsettle you.
There is also that cinematographic achievement of Emmanuel Lubezki of creating what seems to be one long continuous take throughout the film, following characters as they walk through doors, hallways, stairs and stage and streets. If there was any film editing done at all, this was seamless and undetectable. That special visual effects had to be integrated into these continuous live action shots was amazing. I will really have to watch this film again to see this technical feat again more closely.
Overall, this film deserves its place among the best films of the year. It can be polarizing as the topic may not be of any particular interest for some people, and they may find this film pretentious and irrelevant. However, people who love the theater (and film) will get all the inside jokes and hidden barbs scattered within its darkly witty script. For sheer audacity of tackling prickly issues about the entertainment industry with raw frankness and such cinematic brilliance, I think this film is bound for the Oscar Best Picture glory. 10/10.