If you are expecting to see Michael Keaton suited up mostly as the titular ‘Birdman’ in this 119 minute feature film, then you will be upset. This instead is a study on a mind which has been through change, pressure, depression and celebrity. Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomson, an actor who over twenty-years ago was a big box-office star in the Birdman films. Over the years, his status has shrivelled and he has become a washed-up actor with little options to move himself forward. Riggan finds his way to make his “comeback” is in a Broadway play he has written and that he will be starring in and directing. The play, an adaptation of the Raymond Carver story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is seen by Riggan as his one last shot to reclaim fame. The film follows the period of time between the show in rehearsals and ends just after the official opening night of the play. During this time, he is tormented by the voice of Birdman. In his head, this voice tries to get Riggan to break free of his shackles and go and be a star again away from the stage, making him embrace the side of him that is Birdman. Riggan Thomson also begins to imagine the world around him can be controlled by his mind, which sees the viewer question if he really has powers or if his mind is just slipping.
During this time, we are introduced to the cast using this great shooting technique that director Alejandro González Iñárritu adopts. We seem to follow Riggan as he makes contact with the people who revolve around his life during this period. Zach Galifianakis is Jake, friend and lawyer to Riggan. The one friend he truly has who strongly believes in him. Emma Stone is wonderful as Riggan’s daughter Sam. She is shown to be a recovering drug-addict who is working as his assistant and seems to slip back into bad habits now and again. Other characters include the remaining cast for the play which include his girlfriend Laura, the newbie to Broadway, Lesley and the apparent over-actor Ralph. We also meet ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) who attempts to support Riggan and help him bond with his daughter; also we get method-actor/psychopath Mike Shiner who has a career of being a volatile performer (brought to life by Edward Norton in his best film role for a long time). These characters all weave into the life of Riggan and all seem to affect him in different ways. Riggan continues to use the “powers” which are apparently festering inside himself and lets loose when he can. The border of his sanity is continually tested and the Birdman persona grows stronger as time goes on. Eventually, Riggan finds he has to fight for his sanity and needs to do something to stop himself going crazy. Events happen which don’t initially seem to help, but accidental occurrences seem to reignite the interest in this former star and then things change, but will they be for the better?
Without giving too much more away, ‘Birdman’ is just a pleasure to watch. The camera work is some of the best in cinema history. The movie is made to look like one continuous shot for the majority of the running time, really placing us in the action and letting it seem like we are being given access to Riggan Thomson and the lives of those around him. It is a pleasure to see Michael Keaton really pull off such a great part, he shines as Riggan throughout and when you see him actually on-screen as Birdman, it is spectacular (though not too much, enough to give us an idea of what is happening). The idea of whether he is just going mad or is experiencing his version of the world is rather ambiguous throughout, hints do come up about what is really happening, but I think I will leave that for you to decide. The music is great and simple, mostly consisting of drums and coming in when needed. The atmosphere is set perfectly with that score which is going to iconic before too much time passes. No cast member falters here; everybody puts in a great performance. Michael Keaton is just the best man for this job, there are so many parallels to this and his actual life in the Batman franchise and the way he almost went into the shadows after that part seem just fitting for the actor. Though Birdman may not be real, there are many ways in which you feel the character has genuinely been around for a long time. Give Michael Keaton the Oscar he deserves, even if he wins it just for the scene of him marching through New York in his pants. Emma Stone is just a great actress, proving to be a real force in movies. Also I am shocked to see how good Zach Galifianakis really is, his presence in this film is just superb and other stars such as Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Lindsay Duncan (who portrays a theatre critic) are beyond the usual quality I have seen previously. The movie was gripping, visually remarkable, funny, emotional and probably one of the best journeys I have ever had in a cinema. Many films recently I have almost drifted away and lost focus. Never before have I ever sat back in my chair, and then I had to stop and realise I was on the edge of my seat leaning closer to the screen with my unblinking eyes. I have to say it; this is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Yes I may have been a bit unsure about my overall feeling with it when I left the cinema, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Alejandro González Iñárritu, you have a fan for life!
Final Rating: 10/10
Written by Jonjo Cosgrove