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Birdman (2014)

December 24, 2014

birdmanIf you’re wired a specific way you’ve experienced a voice in your head that likes to remind you why you are a piece of shit. The voice varies in its bullying. It will either tell you you’re fat or hairy or talentless or that you’ll never possess the influence of Susan Sontag. Whatever these demeaning comments express, the voice grows into a common headache experienced by most of the human population. When fading actor Riggan Thomas’ (Michael Keaton) voice evolves from solitary whispers within his head into loud roaring insults he begins to lose his wits under the pressure. Michael Keaton sort of plays Michael Keaton tackling a delusional, possibly paranormal former star of the popular franchise “Birdman.” Riggan grows tired of his empty fame from the franchise and is soon pushed into obsession by his ego to prove that he is talented, but more importantly relevant. Riggan slowly begins to lose himself in the sobering reality of aging somewhere between fantasy and fact.

Alejandro González Iñárritu is a cinematic mastermind whose visual narrative continually impresses with each film he creates. Birdman’s single cut filming technique adds to Alejandro’s already astounding track record. In collaboration with three other writers, the quartet arranges an easy flowing composition that moves with fluid placidity at times while revolting against standard cinematic methods. Birdman extends the narrative play used in Being John Malchovich by giving audiences over to the thoughts and powers that only Briggan, and the audience, witness. The script plays on our expectations by cleverly blurring the lines of what is logical and what is not within the existence of Briggan. His first stage production introduces us to a cast of eccentric actors; like his bad boy lead, Mike (Edward Norton), who is so method that he gets drunk on stage in order to channel the character to the dismay of his self-doubting girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts). Birdman looks into the talent Briggan possesses buried under his unperceptive nature and personal delusions.

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The screenplay’s innovation and wit is owed mostly to the execution of the actors and their delivery. Yet, four writers just make for the occasional unfocused, unnecessary scenes throughout  Birdman. When the film shifts to momentarily focus on other characters like Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and his recovering addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone). The momentum of the film slags on these characters taking away from the fascinating scrutiny into the stress and mental calamity in Briggan’s life. The strength of the ending wavers due to Birdman’s lack of conviction in the fate of Riggan. Birdman pulls Lord of the Ring’s type ending where premature endings litter the final moments of the film.

Dispute the hiccup, Birdman is a visual spectacle and clever tale that shines in triumph due to Alejandro’s stellar camera work, blocking methods and the ingenious editing of Douglass Crise and Stephen Mirrione. Together the three weave and bob through stage doors, behind curtains, under sheets, and through the windows all in one seemingly uncut take. Through this line of vision we follow Riggan and his associates through three days of work until opening night of his first Broadway production. Riggan’s coming to terms with himself and the decisions he’s made in life begins with Riggan floating in lotus position midair before the film ultimately ends on the face of his estranged stunned daughter Sam.

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Michael Keaton’s dazzling performance is a reminder to some, and proof for others, that he is an incredible talent capable of more than nostalgic memories from the 80s and funny bit parts. His role as Briggan is one of the best of his career if not the best. Plus, If Emma Stone is nominated for anything this year, it will be for the astounding performance that she bellies out while Zach Galifinakis continues to bring laughs through his career as Riggan’s manager Jake who hilariously struggles to keep Riggan sane and the production afloat.

Every single film I have seen of Alejandro impresses me even when his scripts fail to do so, and Birdman is no exception. It’s enjoyable because of its humor and intriguing story as well as its universal themes explored in Riggan’s uncertainty. The role of an actor, a critic, and person is interrogated along with questions on the power of the ego all wrapped up in a sci-fi fantasy following a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Birdman shines as one of the best movies of the year for its clever innovation and intriguing tale that delves into the gray area of mental health.

SEE IT. It’s silent success is a promising possibility for dramatic fantasies. 

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