MOVIE REVIEW | Birdman (2014)

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“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.”

It’s that time of year when Oscar style moves are coming thick and fast. There are prestige biopics, like The Theory of Everything, Selma and The Imitation Game. There’s intellectual, character stuff like Boyhood. And then there’s the token weird one. The movie that’s a little experimental and trying something different.   This year it’s also the Oscar movie I’ve been most excited about and the first one I can remember getting Oscar buzz months and months ago. This year, that weird experiment is Birdman.


Two decades ago, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) was the star of a mega budget superhero franchise. After refusing to star in Birdman 4, he has slipped further and further into obscurity. Now, in an attempt to find legitimacy and reinvigorate his career, this time as a serious thespian, he’s mounting a Broadway play. A play he’s written, is starring in, is directing and producing. The day before their first preview performance, one of his cast is injured, and Riggan needs a replacement. His leading lady (Naomi Watts as Lesley) suggests her friend / sometimes lover, Mike (Edward Norton).

Mike is the kind of serious actor Riggan wants to be. He’s passionate, he’s talented, he’s pretentious and egotistical. Also frantically trying to get the play ready are Riggan’s straight out of rehab daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), and manager / co-producer, Jake (Zack Galifianakis). As his play, his family and his sanity all crumble around him, Riggan tries to figure out how to stay relevant and be taken seriously as an artist in the modern world.

Before watching it, I had read a lot about Birdman being shot and edited to look like a series of super long takes. There might not be a visual edit until the last five minutes. It’s cool and it’s impressive in its precision, and even though I thought I knew what it would mean for the movie, it surprised me in the way it’s executed. I thought long takes would mean the movie playing out in real time, or something close to it. But Birdman covers several days without an obvious edit.

Riggan will be in his dressing room having a conversation with Jake after rehearsal, Jake will walk through the theatre, with the camera following him the entire time. By the time Jake gets top stage, you see that not only is Riggan there, in costume and makeup performing for a live audience, but that in that time that it took Jake to walk across the theatre, a day or two has actually passed in the story. It’s the kind of thing that could have easily turned into a corny gimmick, but Birdman manages to keep its reality in check, while indulging in these flights of poetic license fancy.

Birdman is a really good movie and I really liked it. The only problem is, I wanted to love it. It seems like forever ago that I first heard about it, first saw a trailer and first saw it talked about as an Oscar probable. It’s been by far the movie I have anticipated most this Oscar season, and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But that in no way means I don’t recommend watching it. See Birdman for the performances, see Birdman for the innovative way it’s shot, see Birdman for a kind of interesting story about fame in the modern day. Just don’t believe absolutely all of the hype around Birdman.

Birdman
Directed By – Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written By – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

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