Monday, 5 January 2015

Birdman - review

Much of the marketing of Birdman has focused on the meta-casting of Batman Michael Keaton in the role of Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman, who attempts a comeback by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.

Yes, there is a critique of the current superhero boom (when needing a replacement for an actor, Riggan lists off a few names but is told they are all busy filming comic book movies) but in fact it is a much darker look at the current trend of Hollywood actors, or as one critic derisory calls them "celebrities", trying to legitimise their careers by having a crack at theatre on Broadway or the West End.

Currently finishing up runs on Broadway are Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon) and Birdman co-star Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) and the last couple of years in London has seen the likes of James McAvoy (Charles Xavier) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) tread the boards when they are not part of the Marvel Universe.

A star name can help boost ticket sales and generate publicity for a show but it can come at a cost and that can be the feeling of resentment from old school thespians and theatre audiences who are unwilling to accept the baggage that can come with that type of celebrity and it is something that the film addresses head on as Riggan starts to unravel as he heads towards opening night.

Having put everything he has on the line to put on the show, the pressure builds and not only is he put under pressure by his obnoxious, pretentious co-star Mike Shiner (a hilariously pompous Edward Norton), his former-junkie daughter who he is trying to reconnect with (Emma Stone) and the voice in his head... Birdman (Keaton's own voice played with a Christian Bale's gravely growl).

Oscar nominations could be in store for Keaton's regenerative performance as well as Norton's (literally) scene-stealing turn but if there is one guaranteed Oscar destined to come Birdman's way it will be award to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (which would be a back-to-back win after Gravity).

When you become aware of the cinematography and editing and start wondering just how they did it, it can sometimes take you out of the film but what is amazing about following Chris Haarhoff's steadicam around the backstage corridors of the St. James Theatre in one seemingly continuous take is that it gives this sense of immediacy and realism that instead creates the feeling that you are watching a play (within a play/film).

And in a film featuring one "single" extended shot, it is the final shot that will leave audiences filled with that genuine sense of wonder because they have indeed witnessed something super.

There is a saying in the entertainment world - "Theatre is life, film is art and television is furniture" and Birdman beautifully blurs the lines between life and art, cinema and the theatre, creating an experience that truly soars.

5 stars