Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #2: BIRDMAN | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #2: BIRDMAN

BIRDMAN is highly ambitious and technically unique, if flawed showbiz satire featuring a career-best performance by Michael Keaton.

Throughout his career, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu is primarily known for making harrowing drama, including his acclaimed "death trilogy" of AMORES PERROS (2000), 21 GRAMS (2003) and BABEL (2006). However, BIRDMAN marks his first bold attempt in the comedy territory. It's always great to see such notable international director like Alejandro González Iñárritu is daring enough to step out of his comfort zone and tries something new for a change.


Once upon a time, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) used to be a Hollywood superstar best known for playing a popular superhero in the "Birdman" franchise. After choosing to walk away from the franchise, his acting career is suffering a nosedive. Now, he is set to make a comeback by starring, writing, producing and directing a Broadway play of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. As Riggan is preparing for the opening night, he finds himself struggling to keep his sanity in check for making things right between his professional and personal life. First, he has an estranged relationship with his daughter and personal assistant Sam (Emma Stone). He also has trouble dealing the ego-driven and cocky co-star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Meanwhile, Riggan's best friend and dedicated producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) tries his best to keep the production going as planned amidst all the behind-the-scene problems.

Whether it comes from the satire or dramatic point-of-view, movies about showbiz are nothing new in Hollywood. For instance, we have seen it before in like-minded movies such as ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), SUNSET BLVD. (1950), THE PLAYER (1992), TROPIC THUNDER (2008) and BLACK SWAN (2010). But despite the familiarity of the genre, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, manages to find plenty of genuine laughs and intriguing drama within its multiple social commentaries. Over the course of the two-hour runtime, BIRDMAN bounces enthusiastically on every corner as the movie pokes insightful, yet serious fun about the current state of today's Hollywood movies (e.g. the mass popularity of the superhero genre), Broadway, social media (e.g. the importance of Facebook and Twitter as well as viral video to become an overnight sensation), and also celebrity culture that deals with creative ego and fame.

On top of that, what makes this movie such a mesmerising cinematic experience is Iñárritu's unique creative approach in the technical department. Special kudos go to Emmanuel Lubezki's fluid camerawork as well as Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione's brilliant editing that helps stitch the shots altogether to make it as if the movie is seamlessly staged in one unbroken take. Such technical illusion makes the movie all the more engaging and involving to watch for as we follow Riggan as well as other main characters around the corridors, stage, dressing room and rooftop at the Broadway's St. James Theatre and sometimes in the city blocks.

At the heart of the movie is of course, Michael Keaton. Although he's been in the showbiz for over three decades, it's a pity that until today, he is considered as one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. Most of us know that Keaton's biggest break remained his first two blockbuster roles as Bruce Wayne/Batman character in Tim Burton's BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) and to a certain extent, BEETLEJUICE (1988). Apart from playing superhero and comedy genre, Keaton proves to be versatile enough as a serious actor playing dramatic roles like CLEAN AND SOBER (1988) and psychotic roles like PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990) and DESPERATE MEASURES (1998). With his decades of acting experience, he makes the best use of his versatility to portray a remarkable role as a washed-up actor Riggan Thomson in BIRDMAN. Whether watching him going all neurotic, depressed, vulnerable or witty with his co-stars throughout the movie, Keaton's performance is simply extraordinary and easily ranked as his finest role to date.

Speaking of co-stars, Edward Norton delivers one of his best performances to date with his role as Mike Shiner. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis are equally solid in their supporting roles, while Lindsay Duncan contributes a small but memorable performance as the acid-tongued theatre critic, Tabitha.

The showstopping moment where Riggan first met Mike on stage and both of them starts improvising their dialogues throughout the rehearsal of the Broadway play; and another moment where Riggan finds himself locked out of the theatre and forced to walk around the crowded Times Square clad only in an underwear.

For nearly two-hour length or so, BIRDMAN is a phenomenal piece of work that gets everything right on track. However, Iñárritu seems to be losing his firm grip during the final ten minutes that addressed the fate of Riggan Thomson. While the ambiguous ending is good for opening up a debate, the end result feels a little disappointing compared to what has come before.


Although BIRDMAN is far from a perfect movie that I was hoping to be, the movie still manages to achieve a satisfying level of greatness that truly deserved all the accolades so far.

* This review is written courtesy from 20th Century Fox Malaysia press screening *

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