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Review: Birdman


One of the films currently dominating the award season chatter is Alejandro González Iñárritu's black-comedy Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Set to be one of the most divisive watches of the year, Birdman is for the most part it is charmingly madcap and technically magnificent, despite overstaying its welcome slightly.

Former Hollywood star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is trying to shed the association of his former role as superhero, Birdman, by directing and starring in a Broadway play. To add further conflict to the mix Riggan tries to suppress his ego, collaborate with method performers, and have a normal relationship with his daughter in this chaotic environment.

Iñárritu injects this theatrical satire with a bustling energy and manic atmosphere. A punchy jazz soundtrack sets these busy scenes of kinetic chaos where actors, crews, and agents fill hallways, dressing rooms, or stages launching into fast-paced bouts of dialogue tackling egos, who is sleeping with who, and satirically toying with the 'seriousness' of such a profession . Iñárritu's camera seamlessly glides between scenes in the style of one continuous shot - whilst crafty editing is used, Birdman is nonetheless meticulously crafted. Packed with a sizzling, bustling energy and shot with pure originality and dynamism, Birdman is a true feast for the senses.

Birdman feels like a patchwork of several different narrative styles and features actors from all ends of the cinematic spectrum - it is a tough watch to place. It should be a mess, but Iñárritu remains in tight control of his story and actors. With a mix of Riggan's Birdman narrated dark inner-monologues and fantastic surreal imagery (ie. the actor flying around New York or destroying his dressing room with supernatural powers), Birdman ranges from surreal and awe-inspiring to darkly comic and occasionally tragic.

Much of the genius of Birdman lies in the casting of Michael Keaton. Keaton has made steady work in a number of smaller films since his Batman days - and it's ultimately not too much of a stretch to see him as former-superhero Riggan. Through Riggan Iñárritu captures the struggle between artistic integrity and mainstream success - and satirically, the effect this has on the mindset of the performer. Keaton channels this dichotomy perfectly, yet leaves a lot of mystery in Riggan's psyche.

Birdman reaches a point around twenty minutes before its conclusion where it sadly overstays its welcome. Instead of ending on a darkly poignant note, Iñárritu seems to get carried away, stirring on for another act which lacks the hard-hitting impact of the prior scene. The conclusion remains great, but it could have been outstanding without pushing on unnecessarily.



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