Famous for portraying the iconic screen superhero, Birdman, Riggan (Michael Keaton) struggles to mount a Broadway play - an adaptation he has himself written, directs and also stars in. As the days near to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, career and himself, haunted by .... Birdman.
Review by Louise Keller:
The rhythmic pounding of a jazz drummer as accompaniment to the little voice inside Michael Keaton's head instills non-stop tension in this incongruous, edgy and brilliant film from Alejandro Inarritu, whose dark comic tones agitate the unfathomable world of the creative actor. It's a mind-blowing affair as theatrical legitimacy acclaim is sought to supersede celebrity in what feels like an uninterrupted stream of consciousness. Keaton simply soars, delivering a wonderfully quirky character with fearless strokes and a refreshing lack of vanity. As for Inarritu's vision, it is uniquely fresh, wildly brave and joyously satisfying.
When we meet Riggan (Keaton) in his dressing room at New York's St James theatre, he is levitating in a cross-legged seated position, the raspy voice in his head telling him 'This place is horrible'. A large framed poster of Birdman, the film vehicle that made him a celebrity hangs on the wall; the voice tells us he is struggling with all the elements around him. By comparison, when he walks onto the stage in character for his starring role in Raymond Carver's play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (in which he has invested his money and reputation), he appears relatively normal.
Things really hot up when Ed Norton appears, replacing one of the actors at short notice. Norton is superb as the wild canon, arrogant, bullish film star Mike Shiner who admits to being Mr Truth on stage and Mr Fraud in real life. His nightmare onstage escapades (from drinking Gin to responding to his erection are hilarious with dramatic consequences.) Naomi Watts is terrific as his girlfriend Lesley, anxiously about to make her Broadway debut ('Why don't I have any self respect?' 'Because you're an actress'). The other women include Andrea Riseborough as Laura, Riggan's occasional lover, Amy Ryan as his ex-wife and Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha, the bitter critic who makes or breaks a production, spitting out vitriol as she verbalizes the sneering attitudes between commercial success and serious art. Zach Galifianakis is comparatively subdued as Riggan's attorney and producer, eager to keep things on an even keel.
Emma Stone is a standout as Riggan's troubled daughter Sam, just out of rehab. Her scenes with both Keaton and Norton zing with a tense dynamic. Watch for the rooftop scene in which she and Norton play Truth or Dare. We have no idea where it will lead. But that is the vibe throughout the film.
Insecurities are shown and vulnerabilities laid bare. As Riggan puts everything on the line to become more than 'a Trivia Pursuit question', the stakes become higher and higher as ego, self-obsession and creative preservation all take their toll. For discerning audiences who embrace the unexpected.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Surprising us most just when we think we know exactly what's coming, combining humour, pathos, drama, magic realism and a potential bag of Oscars, Birdman is virtuoso filmmaking. The screenplay is wickedly satirical in both overt and covert ways. Take the title and the star: we remember Michael Keaton as Batman. Take the female theatre critic who lashes Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) for being a Hollywood blow-in to Broadway, where artistic purity banishes explosions and gunplay ... only to find her elitist view dashed and contradicted. And there is so much more ... it's a film for cinematically mature audiences.
At its roots, the story is as old as showbiz: a man and his friends try to mount a show to avert a financial disaster or save a sacred institution or a career. This classic skeleton is covered by layers of human weakness - plus the very essence that drives so much of showbiz: ego. This rather common element is highly volatile, exceptionally sensitive and deflates as rapidly as it inflates. Maybe more so.
Riggan is either a has-been or a nobody wanting to make it in New York, he feels, to retrieve his ego. But it proves exhausting and almost deadly. All the while he hides a secret that torments him - and best kept a secret here, too, although it's frustrating because that is one of the most successfully used and audacious devices in cinema, especially as it is never explained or alluded to: it's our secret, Riggan's and ours.
Keaton is sensational, but so is Ed Norton as Mike the actor called in to replace one fired by Riggan - well, Riggan's friend and producer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis), on Riggen's orders. Emma Stone gives a powderkeg performance as Riggan's daughter Sam, Naomi Watts shines as Lesley the play's female lead (and Mike's girlfriend), while Andrea Riseborough delivers a complex, heartbreaking Laura, Riggen's current girlfriend.
But it's not just what, it's how the film is designed, shot, edited and given wings that makes it irresistible.
In some ways an insider's story about theatre, in other ways a psychological thriller, and yet another a film noir, or even a parable ... the film defies labels, and the extraordinary soundtrack - with its challenging use of drums, played on a kit we glimpse twice - adds to the effect of being immersed in a wild but hypnotic joyride through human nature.
Email this article
CAST: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough
PRODUCER: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole
DIRECTOR: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
SCRIPT: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Glacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Lubezki
EDITOR: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
MUSIC: Antonio Sanchez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kevin Thompson
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 15, 2015