Birdman is quite simply an affirmation. What sort of affirmation you ask? The kind which confirms what I have known since the 80s; Michael Keaton is one hell of an actor. Give the man a well-written script, an equally gifted cast, a director of the Alejandro-González-Iñárritu variety, and watch him give you gold.
Birdman is a film which tackles multiple topics. Some may be obvious to the casual viewer while the clarity of others may not come into focus until after a bit of reflection. It’s a film which utilizes creative direction to tell a simple yet compelling story. The narrative follows as so: Riggan Thomson is an actor best known for his iconic portrayal of a superhero called Birdman (think Adam West’s ’66 Batman in films directed by Michael Bay). With his best days seemingly behind him, Riggan decides he wants to use his fortune to write, direct, and star in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. But the odds are stacked against the former box-office draw. For one, in the eyes of the Broadway community, he’s a washed-up celebrity, not an actor worthy of the “sacred” stage. Proving himself to these priggish, highfalutin critics is just one of the obstacles Riggan has to overcome (this story’s harbinger of theatrical demise is played brilliantly by Lindsay Duncan); an egomaniac-of-a-headlining star (played fantastically by Edward Norton), a drug-addict daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone), and a production fast-running out of funds only add to the already unbearable weight the man is carrying around. As the film progresses, Riggan’s already fragile psyche begins to unravel. Doesn’t help that his inner monologue continuously goads him into fits of self-doubt and temper tantrums (masterfully performed by Michael Keaton himself).
The film is directed (as well as written) by Alejandro González Iñárritu who is best known for Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Biutiful. This here film I think is one of his best. Everything about it is ingenious; from the writing, to the casting, right on down to the cinematography – it was shot to appear as one continuously fluid scene.
As mentioned, the story tackles multiple topics: an actor’s willingness to star in soulless money-making, action-oriented films to the detriment of their reputation; a critic’s worthless, risk-free opinion juxtaposed with the give-all-risk-all self-funded work of a performer; a neglected daughter’s battered relationship with her father; and our individual, life-long efforts to achieve relevance in the world. There’s even a fair amount of comic-book-style action included for us dorks who love that kind of stuff. But this film is also a simple tale of redemption; redemption of one’s self to our naysayers, our loved ones, and the harshest critic of all: ourselves.