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Birdman Review: instantly iconic human drama and comedy

Film: Birdman – instantly iconic human drama and comedy

Michael Keaton gets ironically self reflective as a washed up superhero actor bidding to write, direct and act in his own Broadway play in an effort to feel some self worth. Battling inner demons, a tarnish family and troubled actors, Riggan (Michael Keaton) takes to the stage to face the music.

Late on in 2014, as the Oscar season neared and nomination shortlists were being predicted, there were talks of Antonio Sanchez being nominated and even winning the Best Soundtrack dong at the Academy Awards. This may be an unpopular opinion but Birdman lacked any cohesive sound. In truth, the drum beat was disjointed and angering. Yes it may have been used to reciprocate the muddled Riggan but it failed to add to the feature and in some cases ruined terrific scenes chock full of acting.

I also felt that sometimes, and this is ofcourse extremely rare, but the writing appeared and read as extremely ham-fisted. Alejandro Inarritu has made it perfectly clear that he sees superhero films as ‘cultural genocide’ and one presumes the feeling is mutual when discussing franchise films. But the need to pepper such good scenes with what seems like journalistic analysis of current movie going audiences and films is not only forced but also entirely disrespectful. Birdman looks like it was hard to film but truth be told Inarritu and his team of writers need not attack his creative colleagues who grew up with heroes and see them as a pillar of western culture.

But the buck stops there because from then on Birdman is treat after treat. Editing is of the utmost quality, as the feature seems to swoop from scene to scene without so much a cut resulting in 99% of the movie looking like one continuous cut. Presumably, director Inarritu wanted the feature to have a stage like theatre feel and this is what he achieved. Terrific acting and painfully truthful dialogue wipe out any chance of motion sickness.

Like a Kevin Smith film the characters talk like people and react like people. Characters make stupid decisions, horny decisions and they cry all the time. Real people cry ALL the time and that is where the film’s best facet lies – its performances.

Much has been made of Keaton’s performance – dubbed as a return to form and his best performance yet I find it difficult to say something that has not been said. Nevertheless I will endeavour. Keaton does not play the middle ground. It is not a case of subtle performances like that of Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler but one of lulls and crescendos. Body language and movement are his weapons and we are his targets. Genuine emotion is felt, jokes are laughed at and uncanny situations are difficult to watch. If you look hard enough, there is a little bit of everyone in Keaton’s Riggan Thompson.

But the standout performance here is not of Michael Keaton or Emma Stone or even Naomi Watts. It is the performance of Edward Norton that catches the eye and twinkles on stage. In some ways his character is more tragic than Riggan’s because he doesn’t actually find himself by the end of the movie. He remains wallowed, pathetic and fake but he plays it well. Norton has a knack of playing such kooky characters with soul and Birdman is no different.

Out of nowhere, Birdman will swoop down on audiences who aren’t ready to be psychoanalysed, who aren’t ready to be taught lessons about life and who aren’t ready to admit that they are as fucked up as the characters in the film. Maybe we all have a husky alter ego mocking us and telling us what to do? The difference is that Birdman dares to show us.

Score – A-

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