A comedy that is both dark and satirical, you’ve got to love how Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu made use of Michael Keaton’s post “Batman” career through his latest film, “Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”. No, Keaton is not a washed out actor – or at least we refuse to believe that he is. However, he does looks fitting for the leading role in “Birdman“, which also allows the world to recognise Keaton again as one of the best actors of all time.
The transformation is conceivable yet it still came as a shock to us how former “Batman” star Michael Keaton managed to throw himself into an at times surreal role for this award-winning film. He portrays Riggan Thomson, a faded Hollywood actor who tries to regain his dignity and ego through a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.
However, he is haunted by the voice of his superhero alter-ago, Birdman, a role that he has played years ago. Although the superhero role has brought him all the glitz and glamour, he is desperate to be taken seriously and to prove to himself he could do better than just being a superhero icon.
Ironically, his character has been compared to the other superhero films that have been taking the world by storm, especially with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The director breaks the Fourth Wall by throwing big names like Robert Downey Junior, Michael Fassbender, Woody Harrelson, and even Jeremy Renner into the film when Riggan attempts to look for a bigger, better actor to replace the current lead actor in his Broadway play.
It’s a rather insightful comparison because the director is putting it bluntly that the world will move on no matter how iconic a superhero was, and the entertainment industry continues to bring more blockbuster movies that will eventually overshadow a Broadway play directed by a former superhero star.
Through “Birdman”, we aren’t just looking at the life of a former superhero star; we are also given an inside look at what happens in the backstage days before a play opens. An opportunity literally came knocking on his door when Riggan’s co-star Lesley (played by Naomi Watts) managed to introduce him to a self-obsessed method actor, Mike (played by Edward Norton).
Edward Norton’s Mike is a saviour, but he is also a nightmare to be around. He had an one-on-one rehearsal with Mike and it is from that moment onwards, we knew that Mike’s presence would only worsen Riggan’s internal conflicts. Mike is a man with no borderline. He cannot be controlled because Riggan needed Mike more than Mike needed a random Broadway play for him to shine. And then there was Zach Galifianakis’s Jake, Riggan’s manager/producer who tried to make sure that the show will still go on no matter how many times Riggan has told him that he wanted to give up on this Broadway play. Jake always make sure that Riggan is motivated enough to finish the play he started with because the stakes are high for everyone involved in the play.
Mike messes everything up because he is a mess himself. He is a player in a relationship because he only shows his true feeling on stage rather than in real life. This explains why he messes everything up on stage because he does things on impulse, and eventually broke Lesley’s heart during a preview for the play. Then he develops an odd relationship with Sam (played by Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter who just got out of a drug rehabilitation centre. Emma Stone’s Sam had this particular scene that stands out the most in the film, it is the part that hits her father the hardest when she tells him that everyone becomes irrelevant at some point in their lives, asking him to move on instead of proving his self-worth through the play.
In addition, the calm but fierce movie critic in the film is exactly the reason why we sort of refuse to call ourselves movie critics too. She is one of those movie critics that the film industry is afraid of the most because she doesn’t care how hard a director or the Broadway actors have worked for a play. She writes honest reviews that also basically mocks celebrities who attempt to be artistic through a Broadway play. She caught Riggan’s attention, especially after she warns Riggan of his ego and says that he is just “a celebrity, not an actor”.
We feel breathless watching this film as it seems like it was filmed in one long shot with no breaks in between. But of course, there are transitions in the film which the cinematographer has managed hide seamlessly. It’s a great way to show the character’s fast-paced life when he’s about to experience a mental-breakdown. Since the beginning of the film, we knew something was definitely wrong with the character, because it is humanly impossible that he could float in the air during meditation or fling objects with his mind. He also has this voice that has been convincing him to embrace his superhero persona again. He is constantly battling with himself throughout the film and the external forces only gave him more pressure.
Without giving it away, we’d say the film has a rather intriguing ending. Does Riggan Thomson finally overcome his internal conflicts? What happens to Riggan Thomson in the end? We’ll just say that it will definitely allow your imagination to soar. The final stunt he pulls by the end of the film is unexplainable, leaving us wondering if he really has the superhuman abilities or if this is all just a set-up.
“Birdman” is original and unique, a film I’d highly recommend people to watch. The cinematography was amazing and you’re going to have a hard time getting rid of the addictive drum score from the film.
Slated for release on 22nd Jan at selected GSC outlets in Malaysia, “Birdman” stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, and Andrea Riseborough.
For more information, visit the movie’s website.