Birdman – Experience
Let’s not get it confused; “Birdman” is not a superhero film in the traditional sense. Strike that, in barely any sense. If anything it’s a study in our so-called worship of superheroes and superhero films. Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself. “Birdman” is a film experience that will either excite or confound, will awe or confuse; in short, it’s not a film for the masses, but it just might be one of the most technical and well acted films in all of 2014.
“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, the former star of the superhero series “The Birdman.” After having fallen on hard times after declining to star in a fourth installment of the franchise, Thompson hopes to reinvent himself on Broadway by directing and starring in a revival of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” After an accident with one of his stars during rehearsal, Riggan is forced to hire method actor, Mike, played by Edward Norton, to fill in, which leads to Mike and Riggan clashing. If that wasn’t enough, Riggan is also dealing with his new girlfriend possibly being pregnant, a daughter fresh out of rehab, and a Broadway critic looking to destroy his show with a bad review. And the cherry on top; Riggan is haunted by a voice tempting him into fate; the voice of his Birdman past.
At the surface, “Birdman” can be summed up very easily. It’s the story of a man searching for something more, something that people don’t see on the surface. Searching for a purpose beyond what has been expected of him for so many years, in essence, it’s pretty much the true story of Michael Keaton. Look at Keaton’s career post-Batman, outside of maybe “Jackie Brown” there really isn’t much to write home about. “Batman” made his career, and after that ride was over, there wasn’t much left. The fact that Keaton recognizes that “Birdman” is almost autobiographical.
The other thing that most people will notice about this film, are the extremely long takes that have become a staple for director Alejandro González Iñárritu. From “Amores Perros” to “Bitful” Iñárritu, much his his fellow Mexican filmmaker, Alfonso Cuarón, has made a living on the long take. While it’s a risky decision, especially with the subject of “Birdman” which is essentially a play, the editing is perfect and gives the illusion that you are actually watching a one-take film. If you are a smart observer, you’ll see the cuts and where the edits are made, but they are done extremely well and “Birdman” will definitely be in Oscar contention on it’s technical merits alone.
Aside from being a technical film, “Birdman” is also able to be a film that is thought provoking, but also a little confusing for a lament. One of the biggest mistakes that someone might make going into this film is believing that it’s a superhero film…..its not, in the traditional sense. What I do find the most interesting is that there are a lot of hints that Riggan Thompson might actually be a superhero, and it’s all in how you interpret what you see. Without giving out spoilers, there are tons of ways to interpret “Birdman,” and that could be a turn off to some people who were expecting something a little different.
All in all, “Birdman” is a film worthy of your attention. It has fantastic acting, wonderful directing, and it’s just quirky and weird enough to demand more than one viewing. It’s likely that both Keaton and Norton will be nominated for Oscars in addition to several technical nominations, notably direction, editing, and cinematography. “Birdman” certainly does fly, but it will make your brain work.
Fun Fact: Alfred Hithcock’s 1948 “Rope” is an early example of the perceived “unbroken shot” technique.