There won’t be many who haven’t heard of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, as it won so many awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The question is whether Birdman will be remembered as an all-time classic, or simply be admired for its technical achievement.
There’s certainly a lot to admire about this picture. Michael Keaton who plays the lead character Riggan Thomson, a washed-up Hollywood actor best know for playing the part of superhero Birdman decades ago, strips himself naked literally and metaphorically in high-definition widescreen close-up.
Desperately seeking credibility when even his own daughter, played by Emma Stone, thinks he has absolutely none at all, he dares to write, stage and star in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.’
My enduring memory of Birdman is its indulgence in technical achievements at the expense of creating an essentially bloodless drama.
Birdman takes us fluidly through both the on-stage action and, even more dramatically perhaps, the backstage drama of the former Hollywood star and the cast and crew he has assembled. The fluidity of the staging is among the main technical achievements of the picture as González Iñárritu and his co-writers conceived the film as a series of long unbroken takes, helping to add to the immediacy and flowing movement of the story.
Keaton’s character ultimately achieves a form of artistic credibility by shedding real blood on stage, when the staged drama spills over into his character’s emotional and professional breakdown. His breakdown is expertly portrayed and both painfully and sympathetically exposed and the audience is stung by several revelations, as when Keaton’s character reveals a former suicide attempt by drowning himself in the sea, which was only thwarted by an attack of giant jellyfish.
There’s a lot for all the cast to get stuck into here, and that another one of the films triumphs as every actor seems driven to put as much into their performance as they dare, with many rewarding results, especially from Keaton and Stone.
Riggan Thomson’s transubstantiation, from irrelevant has-been to media trending topic soaring above the cityscape, though the shedding of his own blood, is on one level a send up and critique of the media and evanescent Hollywood fame, but on another it’s the point on which Birdman fails to become a cinema classic.
This is a film and there’s no real blood shed on screen. As viewers we’re all too aware of the fake and the artifice involved in creating a movie. We see the artifice that goes into making the art, and we get the knowing winks to directors like Michelangelo Antonioni have used them before. My enduring memory of Birdman is its indulgence in technical achievements at the expense of creating an essentially bloodless drama.