Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Birdman (Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 29.12.2014 7

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Birdman (Movie Review)

Birdman (UK Rating: 15)

Although the Oscar nominations aren't announced until mid-January, one of the films leading the pack is Innaritu's Birdman, which opens in the UK on New Year's Day. Tipped to be one to watch in the recent 'Movies to Watch in Early 2015' does it indeed soar? Lights, Camera, Action! finds out.

The central character of Birdman is an actor best known for playing a cartoon superhero who is now trying to resurrect his career. Playing that role is an actor best known for playing a cartoon superhero. The parallels are all too apparent, but the difference is that he - Michael Keaton - has returned to the spotlight with not so much a bang as an explosion.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Birdman (Movie Review)

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is a washed-up actor, best known as Birdman, a superhero from the '90s, and now he's banking everything on a Broadway play. Not only is he the author, he's the director and star, as well. However, every preview performance is dogged by disaster in one form or other, piling pressure on his shoulders, and he also has personal problems of his own to contend with: his teenage daughter (Emma Stone) is fresh out of re-hab and working for him as his assistant. He simply can't shake off that Birdman persona either…

Black comedies don't come much blacker. It's savagely funny, with a myriad of targets all on the receiving end of its pin-point accuracy. Actors and celebrities come top of the list although, as the acerbic theatre critic Lindsay Duncan points out, they are not one and the same thing. All the actors in the play are full of insecurities and there's more than a little ego on show, as well. Edward Norton's Mike is clearly a talented actor, but as a person he's arrogant and insensitive, which makes his ability to attract audiences even more aggravating. Additionally, the celebrities in the film's firing line aren't necessarily from the stage or screen: they are more likely to be the overnight sensations on social media. Despite hating the likes of Twitter and YouTube, Riggan becomes a sensation himself when he locks himself out of the theatre during a performance and has to find his way back through the crowds wearing just his underpants. Even more ironically, the footage turns his play into a sell-out, something the interview he gives to a newspaper can't do. However, it's the latter that's more meaningful to him.


 
Much of the attention - and praise - heaped on Birdman has concentrated on the acting and the cinematography, which makes the film look like it was filmed in one long take. There is definitely no doubt that Keaton is excellent. It's a no-holds-barred performance, with the actor clearly not giving two hoots for the fact that the merciless camera shows the world that he's thinning on top and has more than a few facial lines. He's not the only one on form, though, as Edward Norton is superb as his egotistical co-star, as is Naomi Watts as the play's leading lady who is quickly discovering that the reality of starring on Broadway is a million miles from her dreams.

The cinematography is so natural that it could easily be overlooked, yet it's what makes the film stand out. To make it look like one massive take, it was filmed in a series of long takes, setting the actors a huge challenge of having to perform each one perfectly so that the finished movie would look seamless. It is that illusion of one take that takes the audience on a complicated journey through the backstage corridors at the St. James' Theatre on Broadway, where the film is set.  They are grubby and shabby and look like they haven't been touched since the place was built.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Birdman (Movie Review)

Although the Oscar nominations are a fortnight away (15th January), it's curious how much Hollywood has taken Birdman to its award-giving heart. Already it has been showered with Golden Globe and Critics' Choice nominations and it's more than likely there will be more. There is a large element of naval gazing or, more accurately, mock naval gazing, throughout the film simply because it's about actors. The fact they are working in the theatre, though, not the movie industry, has made all the difference as far as the awards are concerned. For an indie production (it debuted at Sundance last year and has six Independent Spirit Awards nominations), the film has attracted so much excitement that it's burst out of art house cinemas into the mainstream - 231 locations in the US and a wide distribution in the UK.

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10
'Masterpiece' is the current word of choice to describe Birdman. In truth, it doesn't quite get there - the final third goes on for just a little bit long - but it comes very close. With its biting humour, superb acting and outstanding camerawork, it absorbs, entertains and keeps the audience guessing as to where it will take them next. New movie going years don't get starts much better than this.

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Comments

Okay, now I'm very intrigued! I saw the trailer and thought it looked interesting, but Michael Keaton movies are very so-so... Made me a bit hesitant. Thanks for the review!

I saw Still Alice a few days ago. Wow. Definite tear-jerker. Short movie, but perfect length, I felt.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Every Zelda fan should wear the Keaton mask while watching this!

Still Alice isn't released until March, unfortunately.  I've been to a press screening so will review it nearer the time but, at the moment, I'm bound by an embargo.  However, Julianne Moore's performance is said to be the current front runner for this year's Best Actress Oscar - although the nominations aren't announced until the 15th of this month!

Yes, reviews can't go out yet, but I'm looking forward to your final thoughts! I think we might agree on this one, for a change Smilie Smilie

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Really want to see this, sounds like an interesting setup for a film.

Adam, you might think that.  I couldn't possibly comment!!Smilie

Well, this definitely lived up to most of its hype! Dragged a bit towards the end, and didn't feature enough Ed Norton, but was certainly funny and intriguing for the most part. The scenes between Norton and Keaton were fantastic!

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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