Review by Sean Lynch
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is - without question - one of the best films of the year. It's innovative from a technical stand point, it's ambitious from a writing and structural point of view and its cast are all at the top of their game.
It's also identical to Mickey Rourke's comeback The Wrestler in almost every way. But I digress.
Birdman is a stellar, pitch black, satirical comedy from Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of 21 Grams and Babel) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) that tells the incredibly meta tale of a has been actor (played by former real life Batman, Michael Keaton) who was once famous for appearing in a string of blockbusters as the iconic superhero Birdman. However, years later in an attempt to regain his cred and his career, he's decides to mount a Broadway play.
What follows is an astonishing feat of cinema. Birdman plays out with one extended, long, uninterupted shot (albeit with the aid of a few sneaky edits) as it takes the audience on an intimate journey through the perils of Hollywood, career, the creative process, ego and self preservation.
The film is so richly layered with subtext and satirical insight. It's not simply a wonderfully accurate representation of the behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre (it's shot in the historic St James Theatre), it's not simply a biting critique of Hollywood's ability to eat away at a creative sense of identity (take heed Robert Downey Jnr), it's not simply just a discussion regarding the age old question of "art vs popularity" - it's all of these things and more.
Birdman's erratic jazz drumming score is inspired while the cast is astonishing. A large portion of praise must land on the shoulders of Edward Norton (who plays composition of Shia LaBeouf and his own public persona). There is a particular scene in which his character and Keaton's are rehearsing the play, trying to dismantle and reassemble it, and it's the most beautiful example of the power of the film. The camera lingers, the characters excude artistic flair but also arrogance, all the while being constantly reminded of the forced and fickle nature of what they are doing (and whether or not they are doing it for "them" or "us").
It's a stark reminder of Norton's abilities as an actor, abilities that seem to have gone unused for far too long.
Believe the hype, Birdman is a shining light in a sea of Hollywood bird poop.
5 out of 5
Australian release: January 15th, 2014
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Director: Alejandro Gonzlez Inarritu