BIRDMAN (USA/15A/119mins)
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan.
THE PLOT: Haunted by his most famous box-office role, Birdman, and the fact that his career is in the doldrums, a plainly distressed and distracted Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is hoping for a comeback by writing, directing and starring in a Raymond Carver production on Broadway. Quite clearly a man teetering on the edge of a freefall, Thomson regularly converses with his 1990s comic-book persona Birdman, and even experiences the occasional superpower moment. We first meet Thomson seemingly levitating in his dressing room. Moments later, as his co-lead male actor whines once too often, Thomson uses his telepathic powers to have a stage light drop on his head. Or did the light just fall? Thomson’s anxieties continue to mount though, even when the brilliant Mike Shiner (Norton) is drafted in as replacement. Shiner is a loose cannon, seemingly willing to do anything for his art, and he is soon pushing Thomson to do the same, both artistically and professionally. Shiner acts and behaves like a man with nothing to lose; Thomson is in constant fear of losing everything, not only all the money he’s invested in the production and his career, but also the waning respect of his disgruntled, rebellious daughter (Stone), his possibly-pregnant co-star (Riseborough) and his long-suffering ex-wife (Ryan).
THE VERDICT: A film that’s not quite as good as it thinks it is, BIRDMAN is nonetheless another fascinating slice of cinema navel-gazing, with Michael Keaton going full Meta in the title role, as the fallen box-office giant hoping that being a big deal on a small stage might just relaunch his career. Hey, it nearly worked for Kevin Spacey.
As much about celebrity versus creativity and credibility, the current cult of branding in Hollywood, and that old chestnut, the mid-life crisis, as it is about a bunch fo actors banging heads backstage, BIRDMAN is full of flights of fancy. Some soar, others play like a penguin dressed up as a phoenix, but even when BIRDMAN fails to fly, there are plenty of sweet moments and perfectly-formed put-downs to keep you chuckling.
Ultimately no more revealing about the actor’s life than Woody Allen’s sublime BULLETS OVER BROADWAY(and only half as funny), BIRDMAN has pockets of brilliance (most of them involving Edward Norton), but it never truly lives up to its Oscar-baiting pretentiousness.

Review by Paul Byrne

Review by Paul Byrne
3.0Oscar Winning Goodness
  • filmbuff2011

    Day 1 of 2015… and we already have a contender for a film of the year. Awards Season is upon us, so here come the heavy-hitters starting with the wonderful Birdman. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up, fiftysomething Hollywood actor. His best-known role was as a comic-book character he turned his back on in 1992. Sound familiar? Anyway, he’s trying to make a comeback and re-gain credibility by doing that American film actor thing of walking the boards on Broadway. He’s adapted a Raymond Carver story for the stage and is also directing and acting in it. Previews are coming up, but first he has to contend with a maelstrom of problems, including his hostile daughter Sam (Emma Stone), volatile loose cannon on stage Mike (Edward Norton), his patient agent/lawyer/handler etc Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and snooty critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan). Then he starts having flights of fancy. He was, is, Birdman after all… The constantly surprising Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is back on form after the faintly remembered Biutiful. Birdman is a triumph of imagination, guts and is knowingly self-referential. Who else would cast a former Batman and surround him with some familiar faces who have also appeared in superhero movies (but also work in serious films too)? The quirky Keaton has always been an under-rated actor. His recent turn to directing with The Merry Gentleman showed an original style – and he’s a welcome presence in supporting roles. Riggan can’t be too much of a stretch for him – he’s essentially playing a version of himself, in the same way that John Malkovich did in Being John Malkovich. But yet, he goes full throttle into the role and gamely lets it all hang out (well, almost). It’s a funny, touching, melancholic, unshowy performance that should deservedly land him an Oscar nomination (and maybe even a long overdue Oscar). The supporting cast are great too, with actors essentially playing actors playing characters. That strange, self-absorbed world of acting is mercilessly lampooned, but in an affectionate way that should appeal to the actor-heavy contingent of the Academy. There’s so much to enjoy here, whether it’s the performances, razor-sharp script or the fact that it’s very cinematic. Shot in continuous takes with hidden edits, Hitchcock-style, it’s very cinematic for a film that is about theatre. Go see. Now. ****