Not always when you expect a Superhero Movie you are getting one. This shows the Mexican master director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel,” “21 Grams”) with his own personal contribution to this genre. “Birdman (or the unexpected power of ignorance)” is not a comic hero action thunderstorms with mega-budget, but rather a bitter dismantling of Hollywood cinema – at least on one level. The brilliantly staged tragic comedy also is a tragic artists drama, a ridicule biting satire, a relentlessly dark comedy and simply fantastic actors cinema as well.
The Hollywood star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) celebrated the beginning of the 90s as a superhero “Birdman” in a comic blockbuster series huge success. But those days are long gone. After he refused “Birdman 4” Thomson’s career went down and his fame faded. With the performance of an ambitious theater play on Broadway, he now wants to turn the tide. He staged the Raymond Carver adaptation “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and as well plays the lead role. However, he falls in front of the final test audience in acute panic, causing his manager and producer Brandon (Zack Galifianakis) tremendously to regroup. Finally, Thomson’s main actor(Damian Young) is replaced by the eccentric star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). While this helps to sell more tickets it is also proves being a ticking time bomb for the production. The new star Shiner tries spontaneously to sleep on stage with co-star and ex-girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts) , he freaks out when he plays on props and afterwards hunts also the skirt of Thomson’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who is acting as assistant to production. Thomson is also plagued from his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) while the premiere is approaching.
As in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s last moody melodrama “Biutiful” the boundaries between reality and fantasy are also in “Birdman” fluently: At the very beginning we see the main character Riggan Thomson cross-legged in his shabby New York theater wardrobe – Keatfloating! A rough, powerful voice that sounds as if it belonged to Batman’s big brother, speaks unto him. It is Birdman, this slightly pathetic figure canvas, that Thomson once made rich and famous. To illustrate the states of mind of his protagonist, Iñárritu draws on all sorts of surreal elements. Thus we see Thomson / Birdman flying through the streets of New York and besides, he has apparently had the gift of moving objects using mind power. So Thomson is also possibly a spotlight momentum, pulling his hated main cast one over the skull which makes room for Mike Shiner – officially of course it is a tragic accident. The director on the verge of a nervous breakdown is also the perfect protagonist for a behind-the-scenes drama in which the question of appearance and reality in a game settled reflections is thoroughly declined virtuosity. Suddenly we see a street musician who was previously heard playing to the jazz soundtrack from the off (and who appears later without explanation in the theater).
“Birdman” is cinema that plays theater and theater as it could not be more cinematic. Humor and seriousness, hysteria and paranoia, tragic moments and slapstick numbers alternate here constantly – nevertheless “Birdman” never gets out of balance. Alejandro González Iñárritu takes the insatiable greed for (media) attention and the madness of show business in all its facets relentlessly on the grain and forms of these elements a raging story that is driven mercilessly by the famous, feverish film music by jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez. The inner turmoil of the characters and the theater scene is reflected in the presentation. Almost all the scenes are shot in the labyrinthine Broadway theater that is left only short for brief moments. The camera is always followed by one of the figures, then focuses on someone and follows this person. The result is an incredible dynamics, which is further fueled by the extremely high density of razor sharp and snappy dialogue.
The terrific screenplay by Nicolás Giacobone (“Biutiful”), Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo (“Biutiful”) and director Inarritu is a through ball for an outstanding ensemble. Michael Keaton (“Batman,” “RoboCop”) has never been better and provides as an anti-hero from an oscar worthy performance. His Riggan Thomson is like a burning star. When he desperately tries to save his career and maneuvers closer to the point of collapse, he owns all sympathies. But Keaton is not the only theatrical highlight in “Birdman”. What Edward Norton (“Fight Club”, “American History X”) deducts here as a radical Method Actor Mike Shiner is one of the funkiest spectacle stunts I have seen. Norton is completely up in the figure. On the supporting cast I was surprised by “Hangover” star and comedian Zach Galifianakis (“Effective Date”) with a continuous serious, subtle, nuanced performance as angelic patience Manager Brandon. But Naomi Watts (“Mulholland Drive”), Andrea Riseborough (“Oblivion”) and Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) get memorable scenes.
The director is basically flooding the movie with criticism of the Hollywood-operation. Found are ironic references to Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Fassbender and many others like Justin Bieber. And it is probably not a perfect coincidence that his three central characters are occupied with performers who have experience in the superhero genre (Keaton = Batman, Norton = Bruce Banner in “The Incredible Hulk” and Stone = Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spider -Man “). For the gigantism of these films in which technical effects are more important than the acting itself , the Mexican director has left nothing but contempt as it seems. Iñárritu also denounces the (Broadway) theater business as a home of vain arts and crafts and executes the top professional critics as conceited and guided solely by their own interests as self-promoter.
Conclusion: With “Birdman” Alejandro González Iñárritu has delivered a spectacular and complex black tragic comedy masterpiece which even 12 hours after the screening still stays in my mind. Keaton got to win the Oscar for this movie.
Acme Blog Movie Rating:
Birdman will hit UAE Cinemas on January 29.