With seven Golden Globe nominations to its name and numerous Oscar nods expected, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is one of the big favourites heading into this year’s awards season. A big name cast which includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, and Emma Stone, the quirky tale of washed-up movie star, Riggan Thomson (Keaton), attempting to reclaim his former glory, has left critics raving.
With ironic parallels to his own career, Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson was a Hollywood icon in the 80s and 90s as he played the fictional superhero, Birdman. Looking to revive his fledgling career – and wanting to show the world that he is more than merely a man in a big bird suit – Thomson is desperate to make his soon-to-open Broadway play a success. Dealing with the egos (along with his own) of his talented, yet temperamental co-star, Mike (Norton), his troubled daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), and lonely lover, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), is just part of his worries as the writer-director-star battles against time, money, and the critics, to make sure his comeback does not flop. As the doubts grow, the former star’s paranoia deepens (portrayed on screen as his alter-ego, Birdman), pushing him closer and closer to the edge.
When discussing the films creativity, there should be nothing but praise for Iñárritu’s ingenius style. Shot like one long tracking shot, Birdman has a certain quirky intimacy to it. Set predominately within the theatre where Riggan is showcasing his new play, each corridor we pass through gives us a close insight into each of the movie’s main players. Norton’s Mike is a talented, yet extremely demanding actor – essentially the stereotype of a 21st century actor – whose arrogance rubs his co-stars up the wrong way, no more so than Naomi Watts’ Lesley and Riggan himself. Sam (Stone), Riggan’s daughter, is a smart kid with a troubled past. There is a sassy attitude to Sam which makes her extremely watchable, much like Mike’s eccentricity.
It is a beautifully crafted film, with exciting, scene stealing performances (Norton and Stone, in particular) and features an interesting examination of the role of one’s ego and the power of paranoia, yet I still left the screening somewhat underwhelmed, and a little breathless. The latter, in this instance, being a bad thing: its pace is frantic – too much so at times. Keaton, despite a strong performance, is over-shadowed by some of his fellow co-stars. Although his portrayal had the depth others did not, Norton and Stone were the more exciting, engaging performers, and I can not help but be unconvinced of Keaton’s leading man status, despite a fondness for the former caped crusader.
Alejandro González Iñárritu has created a cool looking, frantic-feeling, original piece of cinema, but yet its hard not to feel that it is, sadly, style over substance. As good as it looks, it is harder to get invested in the characters, and more specifically Riggan’s internal dilemmas, than it should be, as any sort of emotional attachment is lost amongst the ambition of the director.