The film is about Riggan Thomson, a washed out actor famous for playing the superhero Birdman in the 80s and 90s, trying to revive his career by directing, writing and staring in a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. The production is plagued with difficulties from one of the actors being injured requiring a replacement to be hired who is an extreme method actor who starts to take over the production to constant issues with the previews. As all this goes on, Thomson regularly hears the voice of Birdman telling him what he should have done in his career and that what he’s doing will not work. What I love about the film is how it completely deconstructs the ego of Thomson. Throughout the film we see that Thomson is doing the play as a vanity project and is using it to revive his career, staging elements of the story at certain points so that when the audience is allowed to think, all they are doing is thinking of Thomson. We also see that Thomson is not a good person, tearing down people he considers friends, offering very little support to his daughter and generally being unpleasant to everyone he meets. In this respect we can see how Thomson would be unable to translate his success as Birdman into a more substantial career and the voice of Birdman in his head shows how all of his doubts are manifesting. It’s also at these points when we see hints that Thomson actually does have special powers, but there is also an indication that they may not be real, and this sense of doubt over whether or not the powers are real helps to sum up the overall feeling of doubt in the character. The sparing use of Birdman in the film also highlights this point, it’s only when things are going wrong that he hears Birdman’s voice, indicating that, in his mind, Birdman has been his greatest failure. This also serves to highlight one of the major critiques the film has about the state of the modern film industry, that being there being too many blockbuster films, with particular focus being placed on superhero films, that focus more on carnage and destruction than in telling a good story. Whilst I am a fan of a lot of these films, I also cannot deny that all of them do devolve into action spectacle in the third act whilst losing sight of the characters (Man of Steel and the Transformers series coming to mind). This film argues that the attention given to these types of films has led to brilliant pieces of cinema being ignored because they are too dialogue heavy and arty for the public and the studios won’t give them wide releases and this is definitely true. Some of my favourite films of last year (Pride, Frank, Only Lovers Left Alive, Under the Skin etc) did not receive wide releases in America and even the more arty films that do become successful need to build up their success because the studio didn’t market them well (a good example being The Grand Budapest Hotel). I also really like the scenes regarding the critic, showing the disdain critics have for certain people, regarding certain actors and directors as lesser and how critics spend more time focusing on one liners to enable the film to be remembered rather than focusing on the technical and structural aspects of a film. Even critics I love have done things like this and I have to admit it as well, I do have my prejudices against certain directors (eg Michael Bay) and this does distract me from focusing on certain films as a whole. On the other hand, I do try and watch each film with an open mind and try to talk about the technical aspects of a film and I don’t really aim for one liners, at least not to my knowledge. All of these elements could make the film incredibly pretentious, and to be fair it is a bit, but they all work incredibly well with the overall plot of the film, bringing some very interesting ideas into the frame.
The technical aspects of the film are incredible as well, mainly due to Inarritu’s decision to make the film look like one continuous take. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love long takes, I feel like these can be a great show of the skill of the writer(s), director and actors if they are done right and it is definitely done right here. This could have very easily felt like a gimmick but the way it’s done, and the context of the film, put me in the mindset of the characters in regards to the play, seeing everything unfold in one go. The editing meanwhile makes sure that you never notice the cuts used to transition between certain scenes, relating to the location of the actors and the time which the scene takes place in. It’s an incredibly bit of filmmaking from Inarritu, aided by excellent cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki who continues his trend of brilliantly shooting long takes from Gravity and Children of Men. The music is also excellent, the drumming in particular putting us in the frantic mindset of Riggan, with each drum stroke timed perfectly. This reminds me a bit of Neil Young’s score for Dead Man, which Young famously improvised watching the film so the score would fit the film. The perfection of where the drum strikes are placed makes me think that the drummer played along to the film, with the playing being matched up to the film. I may be completely wrong about this but that’s the vibe I got from the score.
Overall, Birdman is an excellent film. Brilliantly written and directed by Inarritu, perfectly shot by Emmanuel Lubezki and expertly acted by the cast as a whole, with Michael Keaton and Edward Norton being the obvious standouts, this is an incredible piece of cinema. I may have found my favourite film of 2015 a few days into the year.
My Rating: 5/5