“Birdman” directed by Alejandro Inarritu, is an energetic burst of ambition that takes a weary look at our block-buster dominated movie industry. It’s well known superhero movies are the most profitable and dominant nowadays – yet they forgo social relevancy for costumes and spectacle. Focused on an Hollywood actor torn between creating entertainment (which garners more profit and popularity) and art – the movie illuminates the industry and its indulgences. Shot in a single-shot throughout (edited to look it); this is a true technical achievement – capturing the feel and look of a play in all its unwinding realism. Though hampered by one-dimensional characters and story, it’s nonetheless a worthy check out.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is widely known for playing Birdman in a superhero trilogy – a blue feathered man with a deep masculine voice. Playing this role has gained him wide recognition and financial success, yet he wants to put this behind him and adapt a Raymond Carver novel onto the stage in New York City. Surrounding him are a cast of supporting characters that tend to enter frantically, bursting into the shot. With a recovering drug-addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), his personal life has always been at odds to the all-powerful character he portrayed on screen.
With his levelheaded lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), they sign on the notoriously eccentric Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) – a man committed to dramatic works. This is an actor who is unable to live outside of stage work. The movie boasts many supporting characters that tend to appear frantically, appearing behind closed doors or in unexpected corners. In order to fix his personal life, Riggin must choose between pandering and being true to himself.
Rare for American films it uses many fantastical sequences that are implemented more as technique and less as Freudian psychological insight. By filming in a single-shot, the director employs multiple effects like voice-overs and CGI action sequences to keep it entertaining. This maneuver relies on spontaneity and energy – never properly conveying the meaning or relevancy of a story. The depiction of Hollywood is a little snide and doesn’t feel accurate or plausible. Characters like the film reviewer Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) feel overly negative and are not given enough humanity.
It’s refreshing to see such commitment to boundary pushing, capturing a new way to choreograph and capture reality. The story itself stays one note and flat – with its depiction of Hollywood feeling simplistic and snide. Some of the film’s insights into stardom are less substantial than it’s presented. Still there are some fantastic performances – especially from Keaton who gets his chance to shine. While this is a technical achievement, this is a movie that runs off human energy rather than making memorable statements.
(3 out of 4 stars)
(Released: January 2 2014)