Strange, clever, unique. This movie perfectly combines strong storytelling with virtuosic filmmaking to bring the strong and colourful characters to life in a vibrant, but elegant fashion. Recommended? Birdman sports both traditional and eccentric elements which could make it enjoyable for a wide variety of audiences.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s directing brings the edge that makes this otherwise overwrought and predictable story come to life in a brilliant way. Filming the entire movie in a few shots that last around 20-30 minutes each adds to the dizzying anxiety experienced by the central character. A move like this involves stellar planning and execution. We see actors slip up on lines at times, since a redo would require doing everything all over again. It only adds to the excitement and real time aspect of it. We, as viewers, travel from scene to scene through time, but always in the same places. This style also adds a theatrical element to the play, seeing what we need to see as a means of allowing for time to make the necessary set adjustments and transitions while filming. Such an element is fitting in a movie about putting on a play.
The challenge that this directorial style put on the actors is an immense one because, like in live theatre, everything needs to keep moving. A retake would involve doing everything all over again from the start, so those on and off screen needed to be on point at all times. The main actors in this move all did a stellar job of bringing their characters to life and not only holding their face throughout the filming, but controlling their pacing in this high stress environment. Edward Norton plays the antagonist that we all simultaneously love and hate. He tries to bring the best out of everyone around him, but in the most self-centred ways possible. He plays both cruel and comfortable with ease. Emma Stone makes what could be the performance of her career as the troubled daughter of the main star. She brings real emotional variety and knows where to play things up or hold back. But the focal point of the show is Michael Keaton’s performance at the centre of it all. While many believe that the character is based on his life, he is the hardest working actor in this production and his efforts truly paid off. He jumps back and forth throughout his character’s mental descent and also manages to make light of the situation where necessary.
While the production efforts behind this film were fantastic across the board, one that deserves attention is the soundtrack. The street drumming builds so much tension whenever the main character is teetering on the edge and further establishes this man who has fallen from the soaring heights of his time as a movie action hero to the streets and stage where he is desperately trying to salvage his career. It also plays in stark contrast to the more orchestral pieces used to show the elegant and serious actor that he has always wanted to be.
Birdman succeeds and stands out because of the risk-taking producers behind it. While other films alongside it succeed in their conventional storytelling efforts, Birdman took a traditional story and added spice and humour to become the success story that it is. At some times a serious characters study, and at others making fun of itself and everyone else, Inarritu’s masterpiece deserves to stay in a place where it can be revered and remembered for years to come.