By Anna Power Film Editor @Tle_Film @KittKino
Not since Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life has there been a more palpable portrayal of a mental breakdown than Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. It’s a film with wings that soars, thunders and ultimately roars as an unapologetic assault on the senses.
Michael Keaton plays faded star Riggan in this sharp, blackest of black comedies that finds him attempting to rekindle his career by putting on a Broadway play. Some people have a monkey on their back but Riggan (Keaton) has a Birdman – a manifestation of his past glory and superhero character that brought him fame and misery in equal measure. Birdman has become the voice in his head that pecks away at him, a vicious alter ego tormenting his every move. To the cacophonous rin-tin-tin clamour and clash of drums and cymbals, the white noise in Riggan’s head reverberates as he tries to come to terms with his life and its unrelenting reality. His problems are inescapable, an ageing body ravaged by time, a life lived in absentia under the auspices of fame and fortune, the irreparable scarred relationships with his Wife (Amy Ryan) and Daughter (Emma Stone) and the pinnacle of a career, long since behind him. Both poignant and deeply moving, the pathos and universality of his reckoning are undeniable. Birdman trips a tonal tightrope at once comedic but pure Sophoclean tragedy nonetheless.
Shot by Gravity’s Emmanuel Lubezki, the film cleverly appears to be one long take, the camera following actors as they move in and out of view, jolting and weaving round the warren-like caverns backstage at the crumbling Broadway theatre as well as on the streets of NYC. With the camera’s constant movement, the film has the feel at times, of a fly-on the wall documentary, Curb Your Enthusiasm style. This adds to its intensity and kaleidoscopic multi-dimensionality as we see and experience things as Riggan does, through his eyes.
In Birdman Keaton is supported by an incredible ensemble cast. Scenes scintillate with Edward Norton as fellow actor Mike Shiner, the two actors and their gargantuan egos rutting it out for supremacy. Naomi Watts is superbly whimsical as insecure actress Lesley and Emma Stone triumphs as Riggan’s angry daughter Sam. The scenes between father and daughter are so truthful they act like filmic paint-stripper, cleaning away any hint of ambiguity and piercing right to the heart. This is a father-daughter relationship with wounds that still smart and emotions that live close to the surface. Riggan clumsily seeks restitution with those he loves, but doesn’t know how to see beyond his own needs. His wife tells him the truth of this: “You confuse love for admiration”.
The theatrical lifestyle excuses much of Riggan’s narcissism and as a result many of his worrying behaviours are ignored, seen as the high spirits of an artistic temper fraying amidst the looming pressure of opening night instead of warning signs that much darker difficulties lay beneath.
Birdman finds Keaton at the top of his game giving an astonishingly powerful and poignant performance. Iñárritu has followed his breathtaking film Biutiful with another triumph. Birdman is an undeniable cinematic event and its January 1st release makes it a wonderful start to 2015’s film calendar.