Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


Mike Shiner: Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.

Now imagine this: one film, one continuous take. Can it be done? Will it work/ Does it work? And if you can do it, can you follow it? Where does it lead you?

I read on some online trivial that director Mike Nichols when he was approached by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaritu days before he would begin shooting this film, Nichols  cautioned and dvised that this would might very well possibly be a failure of a film. And yet, here we are, the award season of 2015 is upon us and 'Birdman' is soaring on the award boards. And not just cause of it's brilliant directiorial techniques, which are unfathomably and without a doubt skillful and masterful, but also because of the ingeniousness of what constitues 'Birdman'. 

The story in lamest terms follows a washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, who battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play. 

The film starts off with the character or Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) as the washed up actor, who makes one final attempt to regain stardom and tries to reinvent himself as a director by staging a new adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". The events leading up to the Saturday night premiere prove to be one disaster after another as the original lead actor is injured while on set and Riggan scrambles to find a replacement, but the replacement proves to be exactly who he needs - a method actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who takes the job way too seriously. 

The plot thickens as Riggan is having a hard time juggling between the set, his replacement actor, his equally washed up daughter, and a host of other disasters that prevent a proper staging of the play. Meanwhile, a New York Times critic who Riggan has to woo threatens to shut down production of the play before it even starts with a scathing review of the opening night performance. Does Riggan have a hit on his hands or will he even make it past opening night?

What makes this film stand out is this: hard-core neurotic performances, a pink-point and all hands-on-deck direction that never lets you gasp for breath and a killer scenario that will not only have wider audiences's brains' hammered by the ludicrousness of human vanity, but also make every artist out there reel with identity crisis as they will see a clear depiction of themselves on screen. This is not just a film; this is a canvas of absurdism, and to say I but approve would be an understatement.

But let's speak about the actors first: Michael Keaton, who so brilliantly fits the role of Riggan Thomas, as he also in real life seems to have had a tough career after his 'Batman' days, not only single-handedly spreads sarcasm and terror through his performance but also demands you look him in the eyes and recognize pieces of your own vanity and soul through him. He is Birdman, he is driven by chaos and soul and passion and madness and genius. And he will astound you down to your every meaningless bone for not trusting his gut from the beginning. I honestly had no idea what Keaton was capable of as an actor up until this very fine moment. And oh boy, am I glad Iñaritu chose him. He saw the light of Birdman in Keaton and he made it shine as bright and as loud as he could. 

Coming to close this excellent endeavour come the unique talents of a Mr. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. Norton, who's also known in real-life for his method acting techniques when preparing for a role, offers a sinister and yet brilliant portrayal as Keaton's nemesis. He is there to demand attention, to become the actor you love to hate or hate to love (depends on your vantage point) and he makes sure he delivers a gripping performance through his egotistical and mutli-faceted character. Just the likes of Watts as well, she is as always grounded in being the washed-up actress herself, that is anything but in real life, that has you squirming for her lack of confidence in her abilities and low self esteem of how far she will stoop to make her childhood dreams come true. 

The cast is completed finely by the once too often jokesters of actors Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, who not only both of them prove that, man, they're capable of leaving you gasping with their foul mouths and their neurotic train of thought. Stone portray's Keaton's daughter, who's life is spiralling out of control going from one rehab centre to the other, whilst Galifianakis, is portraying Keaton's manager - and we all know that fury and angst along with a variety of foul language is a few of the traits of any well driven manager in the industry. It is rather a wonderful surprise to see fine comedic actors mish-mash their stereotypical acting skills with a dosage of sureal seriousness on screen, and Iñaritu let's them have it all the way. 

What a brilliance. Unlike all your straight up narratives linear plot lines that are in the Oscar race this year, this film does not flinch an inch when it tries to give you it's story as a one continuous take. The pacing and rhythym within allows the viewer to follow the actor of each scene with ease, due to a carefully choreographed staging - almost stage like - a precise technique of the use of cinematography and editing, making sure that any cutaways are not distractive enough from following the plot as it goes - and a pshychological emptahy to the charachers' inner journey. Do you follow?

Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men, Sleepy Hollow) carefully maintains an equal pacing of his camera's movements, following each central actor and acting according to their executed emotional state. The camera is a mirror for Lubezki that depicts the gloriousness of the inner self; the ego of the project itself. Clever enough also of Iñaritu to let his scenes breath with sky pans and various fades into time changing zones that guide you through a few days of how the scenario unfolds. 

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaritu (Babel, Amores Perros, Biutiful) , who is not a first timer in the art of using the actor's psyche speak more than his words, is a glorified genius in this one; he allows the technical elements of his filmmaking have an effect on the unravelling of the emotional state of his characters. He controls the rhythym and keeps it at bay until he deems it high enough for the climatic ending. He actually plays magic tricks on screens, making you laugh with irony and cynicism, serving you a cold hard truth of what life on the other side feels like - the once almighty glitz of stardom and the insanity of grabbing onto it once more. What's it all about? This is the script that Iñaritu presents. How much is enough? How far will you go? And how far will your human ego and vanity let you fly..

Given opinions expressed through my reviews, the chances are for a Best Screenplay/Best Picture/Best Actor/Best Director/Best Original Score. If I could use but one word to describe this films is this: surreal. 

A worthy shout out to the incredibly insane and addictive original drumming score of Antonio Sanchez, who leaves you palpitating long after the film's ended. 

Make sure you catch this film on cinema while it's one. It is one of the good gems that don't come this often! 

(Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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