'Birdman' Takes Flight as One of the Best Films of 2014
by Will Lindus
There has been a lot of critical buzz circling the air above Alejandro González Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman’ ever since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. Starring Michael Keaton in a career-reviving performance, ‘Birdman’ is a black comedy that follows an actor named Riggan (Keaton) who used to be famous for playing a superhero named Birdman in a series of hit movies. In a bid to cement his relevance as a legitimate dramatic force, Riggan prepares to launch a Broadway play and in the process, comes face-to-face with his own perceptions of fame, his ego, and his short-comings as a family man.
Let’s not bury the lede; ‘Birdman’ is one of the finest films of 2014, and I highly recommend you see it as soon as possible. Director and writer Alejandro González Iñárritu wields ‘Birdman’ as a torch in the darkness as he searches for truth: truth in a world obsessed with fantasy, truth in art, truth in the way we perceive our own importance, and truth in the way we interact with those we care about.
The heft of these weighty topics rest on the shoulders of Michael Keaton, who brings a balanced blend of sincerity and grandeur to his performance. Keaton is no stranger to the struggles faced by Riggan; facing a now-flagging career that peaked during his stint as Batman in the late 1980s, Keaton knows precisely how it feels to carve a path as a legitimate actor in a cinematic landscape swarming with big budget superhero blockbusters. This is, perhaps, a career-best performance for Keaton, and it would be surprising if he doesn’t make the short-list of Best Performance by an Actor nominees at this year’s Academy Awards.
Keaton is joined by an incredibly talented supporting cast. Critical darling Emma Stone brings edginess and intensity to the role of Sam, Riggan’s emotionally distant daughter. The relationship between Riggan and Sam fuels many of the more powerful exchanges in ‘Birdman.’ Ed Norton also turns in a dazzling performance as Mike, a well-regarded Broadway actor with an inflated ego who is brought in to serve as a ringer in Riggan’s play. Norton and Stone share one of the most intriguing scenes in the film as the two compare their character flaws during a game of truth or dare; Mike (Norton) is unable to find truth or meaning anywhere but on the stage, while Sam (Stone) lives her life as an adrenaline junkie who finds meaning in nothing.
The film’s gimmick is likely one that will keep critics and casual fans alike talking for months to come. ‘Birdman’ presents the entirety of the film, save for a few crucial moments, as one long, uncut shot that follows the actors from room to room. While an astute observer may be able to identify where the cuts and scene breaks occur, Iñárritu and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki do a first-class job of making the seams invisible to the casual eye. The sensation that the entire film is one long shot keeps the energy and pace frenetic; there are no convenient fades to black when a scene gets too uncomfortable or intense. The film’s sleazy, breezy drum beat score helps keep the rhythm of the film, serving as a steady backbeat during quieter sequences and racing to a fevered gallop whenever Riggan’s fragile balance is threatened.
Final Verdict: Do artists matter, or is their work purely superfluous? What does it take to be relevant? Or is relevance itself a myth? I can’t answer these questions, but after fully absorbing ‘Birdman,’ I find myself thinking about these ideas more and more. Using the film’s own logic, it is hard to determine whether a movie can be considered a work of art, or if high-concept material is simply a a chance for critics and over thinkers to gather for an intellectual circle jerk. To me, though, ‘Birdman’ sits in the first category; it is that rare gem of a film that succeeds in both challenging and entertaining you.
5 out of 5 Bear Paws