Michael Keaton stars as jaded actor Riggan Thomson, attempting to rejuvenate his career after his many years at the helm of a multimillion dollar Hollywood franchise. With a play he has adapted, directed and is starring in, Riggan has to keep his superhero alter ego in check, deal with king of the stage Mike (Ed Norton), attempt to reel in his just out of rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and keep NY Times theatre critic (Lindsay Duncan) happy – and all before opening night.
In a world of cinema where Marvel rules the roost, constantly breaking box office records and being the key to all future Hollywood success for actors, Birdman very astutely comments on the power of franchise, whilst also being sympathetic to the plight of the actor’s ego. The cinematography is stunning and with one long tracking shot for the entirety of the film following Riggan and his surrounding cast during the previews, it seems like a metaphor for his career, winding and never ending, constantly following him everywhere he goes, much like the autograph hounds who seek him out wherever he may be. Antonio Sanchez’s score is subtle yet perfectly underpins the mood of every scene, before the audience is even truly aware of what that is. The percussion punctuates every mood, underlining but never overshadowing what is happening on screen.
Every cast member gives an outstanding performance managing to err on the side of funny but never too far that the serious stuff is made light of. This is particularly true of Ed Norton, as well as the fabulously cast Zach Galifianakis as the slightly camp producer, a nice change from his usual man baby with catchphrases. But it’s Michael Keaton himself who truly is the star of the show, with his conflicting moods, his anger, his fear all displayed wonderfully on the face that, rather ironically (or not as casting choices go) many know predominately from Tim Burton’s Batman.
It’s also incredibly self-aware, managing to be funny whilst also saying something very truthful about fame. What is real and what is not within the context of the film is ambiguous, so that you leave the film with more questions than answers. But, personally, I think that’s how it should be – film should make you think, not entirely sure of what you’re seeing or how it makes you feel. As well as being funny and clever, ridiculing the industry it is inevitably a part of, Birdman also has heart, one which at times skips a beat in shock, before returning to its soaring above the clouds.
It also, being a film about a play, manages to give a sense of what that means – of being on stage, waiting in the wings, the dressing rooms. This is no mean feat and for the ‘real’ feeling that you get from watching live actors perform right in front of you to be translated to the medium of film shows that director Alejandro González Iñárritu has done well.
Perhaps it feels unsure when to end, and the last half an hour is full of moments ripe for the credits to start rolling after, with each scene feeling like another addition to a pretty perfect film, but that only enhanced the story for me, of a career rolling on, unsure when quite to finish.