“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige, my friend.”
Birdman is less of a film and more of a play. The story revolves around Riggan Thomson’s (Keaton) debut Broadway show and the tribulations that come with it. The theatrical feeling comes from how the film is shot. Alejandro Iñárritu chose a long, narrow style in which his scenes are constantly moving and continuing. The camera follows whichever character is important, before moving seamlessly onto another thread. The camera’s movement from one character to another was a masterful choice, keeping the plot fast and flowing, even as action was minimal. The style was the perfect counterpart to the “talking bullshit” Iñárritu appreciates so highly, and makes the film so unique.
The film’s theatrical style continues with the rhythmic nature of the film’s soundtrack. Instead of a traditional, forced soundtrack, much of Birdman is supported by a drummer. This drum accompaniment not only sets the tension of the film like no other soundtrack could, it also reflects the busy pace of the theatre and Riggan’s mind. The drummer is fast, dramatic and part of the background. As the camera follows a character, the drummer is often in scene, showing that he is part of the production.
Birdman doesn’t push the audience into decisions about the film’s plot. Iñárritu keeps the film moving by not explaining every development, leaving much to the audience’s digression. This is most prominent with Riggan’s extraordinary ‘talents’. Iñárritu is consciously vague about Riggan’s abilities, refusing to clarify whether what we see is an extension of his own damages psyche, or part of real life. Birdman keeps you guessing, without giving you a satisfying answer. This decision is terrific.
Other than Iñárritu, who is surely a serious contender for the Best Director Oscar, Michael Keaton is the star of the show. After winning the Golden Globe for best comedy actor last night, it may be no surprise that Keaton is the shining light. Though Norton and Stone both have their moments in the limelight, Keaton’s emotional state and ideals on relevance give the ex-Batman vast range to show his ability. Not only is his performance emotionally delicate and moving, but he is also hilarious: A serious contender for another award in the not too distant future.
It seems that the only comedies that are made with any quality recently are stylised ones, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, or black comedies such as This is the End or Birdman. Birdman’s darker, more morbid themes are both emotionally moving, Sam’s (Stone) speech, and also at times riotously comical.
However, unlike most of the top films I have seen since starting this blog, Birdman didn’t leave me with any lingering feeling such as I had with Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler or even GBH. Also, several subplots were left open, without resolution. It is hard to put my finger on quite what was lacking from the overall picture, but whatever it was, it didn’t spoil the experience. Birdman is visually stunning, acted effortlessly and rhythmically paced.
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