Spectacular, breathtaking, an exhibition of surrealism and a thousand other things. Birdman is a great piece of Cinema.
Michael Keaton stars as an ageing Riggan Thomson, once popular for playing a superhero called Birdman, a superhero franchise which had its last film in 1992, [which interestingly is also the year Michael Keaton’s 2nd batman film released] and is now desperately looking for a comeback by appearing in a Broadway play. It is metaphorically a film on Michael Keaton’s career. [Although Keaton thinks otherwise]
22 years after Tim Burton made his last Batman film with Michael Keaton, who would have thought that the near extinct Keaton will return in such a hauntingly beautiful fashion and deliver the greatest performance of his career. Michael Keaton is also the most deserving candidate for this year's Academy Award for the Best Actor.
I wonder, if director Alejandro González Iñárritu wanted to cast a washed out super hero actor to play the lead character in Birdman or he always wanted to make a film on Michael Keaton’s life after Batman Returns. Whatever the case may be, there is no one I can imagine who could play the leading character in Birdman better than Michael Keaton.
Birdman is a satire on Hollywood and the actors who played these characters. It’s a satire on Michael Keaton because the character’s story does resemble his career and a parody on Edward Norton because like his character, he is also a famously annoying co-star to work with.
As the film starts, we see Riggan Thomson meditating, floating mid air in a lotus pose and we hear a voice saying “how did we end up here?” That voice is Birdman’s which sounds like the famous Batman growl. Right from the first scene, Keaton looked intense and a completely new guy you may never have seen before. It was from that very moment you knew that both Riggan Thomson and Michael Keaton are going to change the saddening reality of their careers.
Riggan Thomson reminds one of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in a completely different way. Unlike Norma, Riggan doesn't confine himself to a life that doesn't really exist any more, he has an unpleasant reality but somewhere he is still weaved in that alter ego of his. He wants the voice to shut up but he also embraces the superhero mannerism of Birdman when he puts the television off or moves random objects or opens a door using his mind [or he believes he does all those things]. It is left for how we interpret it individually, like we interpreted differently what the briefcase contained in Pulp Fiction.
Emmanuel Lubezki received the 7th nomination of his career for Best Achievement in Cinematography. He has done another master work and this time he created an illusion that the whole film was shot all in one long take. This is something he mastered in this great scene from Children of Men.
It is one of the best ensemble casts I have seen in many years. Each and everyone played their parts to perfection.
Michael Keaton’s performance was intense and hard hitting as if somewhere in the back of his head he knew that this might be his last big chance to score. Edward Norton as Mike is a self proclaimed perfectionist who plays a mysteriously selfish but there is something really fishy about him that you never totally love or hate him.
Zach Galifianakis was unbelievably good as the producer cum best friend of Keaton’s character; he can really do serious black comedy, bringing out the humour without actually doing a funny scene. There are 4 strong and significant woman characters and one just can’t imagine Birdman without anyone of them. Emma Stones, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough play these characters. Each one of them had a different equation with Riggan Thomson. Emma Stones outshines the rest of the 3 and deservingly received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal as the messed up back-from-rehab daughter.
In an interesting scene, Riggan Thomson tells her ex-wife of an incident:
“The last time I flew here from LA, George Clooney was sitting two seats in front of me. With those cuff links, and that chin. We ended up flying through this really bad storm. The plane started to rattle and shake, and everyone on board was crying and praying. And I just sat there-- Sat there thinking that when Sam opened that paper it was going to be Clooney's face on the front page. Not mine. Did you know that Farrah Fawcett died on the same day as Michael Jackson?”
Ironically both Michael Keaton and George Clooney played Batman and even though we hated Clooney as Batman, we have seen his career flourish but Keaton never graduated from a mediocre filmography. This perhaps justifies the question the voice of Birdman asks Riggan: “how did we end up here”.
Birdman is poetic, hallucinating and extremely illusive. It has an environment that resembles that of an art-house cinema. It is a passionate work of art that leaves you craving for more.
As Riggan Thomson tries to regain his lost stardom, Michael Keaton redeemed himself in the process. Birdman is one of the best films of this decade.
[The Author writes at Movie Geek's Blog]