"It's important to me! Alright? Maybe not to you, or your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral. But to me... To me... this is - God. This is my career, this is my chance to do some work that actually means something." - Riggan
This is awesome – never before during the run up to the Oscars have I been in the position where I’ve seen so many of the top contenders. I’ve seen Theory of Everything, and was absolutely blown away with the performances, Gone Girl stunned me with its twisted plot, I loved the quirkiness of Jake Gyllenhall in Nightcrawler and I’m seeing American Sniper this coming Wednesday and Birdman was watched a few days ago. (Seriously – I should’ve moved my day job location closer to the multiplex years ago!)
Theory of Everything was outside my normal comfort zone, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler, I would’ve seen at some point either on Sky Movies or DVD, same goes for American Sniper. But the really surprising one here for me was Birdman. And that in itself is odd.
Following the trailer, I was convinced I was going in to see a film about a down and out superhero in the twilight of his career. A comedy, maybe like Hancock in tone.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s the story of a washed up actor, famous for playing a superhero (the Birdman of the title) now trying to claw his way back to some artistic integrity by starring in a Broadway play, while also trying to recover his relationship with his family.
The whole thing has a ring of truth about it, because of course Michael Keaton played Batman years ago – and to date, his version of Batman remains my favourite of them all. Michael Keaton is, to my mind, one of the biggest talents in Hollywood and is often under rated as an actor. But consider this – I first saw him in Johnny Dangerously many years ago – a comedy gangster film. That was followed by Beetlejuice, and the announcement that the Beetlejuice guy was going to play my favourite comic book character was just outrageous to be back in 1988. But when Batman was released in ’89, he became definitive within seconds of his first appearance in costume.
Pacific Heights showed he could chill an audience in a performance that just reeked of psychotic menace, then in Multiplicity – all laughs again with an incredible performance where each of his clones had a separate and distinct personality.
Birdman completely proves my point about his talent. His range here is awesome, from funny to desperate to triumphant.
The subject matter too is pretty poignant, and hit home, as there’s a strong message in there about typecasting. I’m probably one of the more obsessive fans of super hero movies, the stuff I’m seeing these days is the stuff I’ve read about since I was a small child and they’re stories and situations I’ve always wanted to see acted out on the big screen. But at what cost to the actors careers?
I’m currently working my way through the DVD box set of the 1966 Batman TV series, and that series back then way my introduction to the colourful world of comic books. Pre the Batmania craze of the mid sixties, I didn’t even know America even HAD a comic book industry let alone superhero characters. It was a life changer. But although Batman brought fame and money to leading man Adam West, it also effectively killed his career for several decades. He was Batman to an entire generation, audiences and studios couldn’t see him in any other role.
How many people out there in today’s audience look at Robert Downey Jnr and see only Iron Man, not even aware that he won a best actor Oscar, Golden Globe AND BAFTA award back in 1993 for his title role in Chaplin?
Birdman doesn’t exactly denigrate populist entertainment, but there is a sequence/exchange between Riggan (Keaton’s character) and an elitist theatre critic that gives us food for thought.
And that’s the film’s main strength, I went into the screen fully expecting to see a specific type of film, about thirty minutes in, I realised that what I was watching wasn’t that type of film at all, but rather a quirky movie that defied being pigeonholed in any category – it has elements of several different genres from human interest, to conflict to comedy to tragedy – but it doesn’t wholly fit comfortably in any of them. Despite this, I found that I left the multiplex with a lot more to think about and process than when I went in. Surely that’s the indicator of a really good, well executed and worthwhile film, and one that I need to see again, and again.
Before closing off this review – a quick note about the cinematography – it’s shot in the style of Hitchcock’s Rope, where the individual takes are very long, and it’s very hard to see where the cuts are between the scenes as the film runs along smoothly at its own pace with no cuts from one scene to another, nor fadeouts to suggest the passage of time. It’s an incredible achievement.
Hopefully this level of insightful creativity will be recognised at the Oscars.
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