Alejandro González Iñárritu is no stranger to directing unique and critically successful films. There has been Babel (2006), for example, an ambitious and very human drama which completed his Death Trilogy. He then found success with the foreign language film Biutiful (2010), a touching look into a man’s demise from prostate cancer. The Revenant (2015), Iñárritu’s first release after Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), was also acclaimed, garnering Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Yet still, above these all, flies Birdman. His fifth feature film is, without a doubt, his best; a film full of cinematic delight, powerful lead performances, and a punchy social commentary.
Much like Iñárritu’s previous films, there is a distinctly humanistic feel to Birdman. The character’s struggles all seem real and possible, making the emotional impact of the film that much more hard-hitting. A lot of this is down to the actors’ performances. It is such a stellar cast list that one goes into the film knowing that their performances will be top of the range and film-enhancing. We have Michael Keaton as the once famous, now washed up, actor Riggan Thomson, who is trying his hand at Broadway after making his name in the Birdman films of the 1990s. Keaton’s wacky and wonderful powerhouse performance is backed up splendidly by Emma Stone as Thomson’s daughter and recovering drug addict. Edward Norton, too, lends his hand brilliantly as an acclaimed yet arrogant Broadway actor; there are also eerily accurate moments from Norton’s character akin to the sexual inequality and predation that has come to light within Hollywood in years since the film. These three actors, as well as the supporting cast, bring to the table humour and naturalism. We feel their very real struggles as if they were our own. We are captivated by their monologues, the camera sweeping to close-ups of their faces in their most intimate moments. We are, whether we like it or not, very much involved in each of their lives.
Now if you have read anything about Birdman, it has more than likely included a reference to the unique cinematography of the film. The two hour-odd film seems to be filmed in just one continuous take. It isn’t, because that means it would most likely still be in the filming stage, but it really, really seems to be. Of course, Iñárritu’s directorial influence is there to be seen, but the brilliant mind of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is what drives this style. There is not a single moment for breath or rest for the audience, as the camera sweeps beautifully throughout the theatres, bars and streets of Broadway for two hours. Not that you would want a rest, because it just so joyously delivered.
Birdman, simply put, is a satirical triumph. Iñárritu comments brilliantly on film and theatre of the modern day, on Hollywood, on Broadway, on the actors who take to the screen and stage and the struggles they bring with them. It is a weirdly wonderful film, complete with a disorientating score and some hallucinations from Riggan Thomson thrown in for good measure. He painfully longs for his moment in the spotlight of the ‘90s, when he was the Birdman, the king of superhero movies. It is, all at once, a heart-wrenching and comical cinematic masterpiece that cannot and should not be missed.