“Birdman” is a triumph on every level, effectively ridiculing the modern state of fame and show business while also telling an emotionally compelling story.
The success starts with the skilled direction by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who immerses the viewer into the high-stress, boom-or-bust realm of the entertainment industry. González Iñárritu, whose already garnered several directorial Oscar nominations (see: “amores perros” and “Babel”), is a solid Best Director pick for the 2015 Academy Awards.
A director like González Iñárritu needs a solid cast to fulfill his potential, and he sure as hell has one in “Birdman.” Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a washed-up action star who writes, directs and stars in a theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.
Thompson attempts to salvage his career with the production, but struggles with his mental state throughout. While fighting an alter ego, his famous Birdman character, Thompson also believes that he possesses superpowers. González Iñárritu keenly leaves the latter issue ambiguous to give the movie a surreal twist.
Keaton plays Thompson so perfectly that it seems almost autobiographical (as he did play Batman in the Tim Burton versions). Look out for Keaton’s name come Oscar season; he might be holding the golden statue at the end of the evening.
Alongside Keaton is a bevy of acting talent. Zach Galifianakis portrays Thompson’s close friend and attorney Jake, while Edward Norton portrays self-absorbed and talented theater actor Mike Shiner. Both actors display immense talent with Galifianakis going out of his comfort zone and Norton churning out an excellent performance as usual.
The dark horse performance of the film is Emma Stone’s portrayal of Sam Thompson, Riggan’s adult daughter. Donning several tattoos and an extremely pale complexion, Stone captures the attitude of a daughter who grew up with a father constantly away from home filming “Birdman” movies.
While the acting is excellent, the cinematic techniques may be more impressive. A constant, strong drum beat rings throughout the film, illustrating the frantic nature of show business. Several classical music pieces are also present (it wouldn’t be Broadway otherwise).
Each scene flows together with seamless transitions as if the movie was taken in one take. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki deserves an entire trophy case of awards for his impeccable ability to weave each scene into one another.
“Birdman” pays off after a relatively slow start. A black comedy that offers social commentary at every turn, “Birdman” offers critiques on the new age of ‘viral’ fame, the influx of superhero movies and the theater business as a whole.
The film fires on all cylinders and will contend for many awards in the coming months. If anyone competes in weird Oscar betting pools, “Birdman” makes for a good pick on all fronts.
“Birdman” is a must-see for film geeks, with daily showings at the Athena at 5:00, 7:15 and 9:35 with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:45.
Speakeasy Grade: A
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Stone
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence