Saturday, January 31, 2015

Birdman review; an unexpected Oscar frontrunner

When I first heard about Birdman, I was a bit skeptical.  If one were to read nothing more than the synopsis of the film; you'd think it was just about an actor who was once famous for playing a superhero, but is now diving into insanity as he puts together a play.  The film is much more than that!  Writer/Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has made a film that is too difficult to describe with just a synopsis.  So let's see if I can do the film justice.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Actors
Michael Keaton plays the lead in the film.  Keaton's character used to play a superhero in the fictional blockbusters, appropriately titled, Birdman 1-3.  But Keaton's character has aged, matured, and is ready to try something different.  So he writes, directs and stars in a play, with a much more serious subject.  Keaton is the best I've ever seen him in the movie.  He plays the character so well, I honestly believe he had to have got lost in the character.  Watching the character devolve into complete insanity; all the while performing the best he ever has in the play, was a sight to be seen.  I've said this before; but some of the best actors in the world can convey an emotion with nothing more than their eyes, and Keaton does that here.  Brilliant performance and he deserves to be one of the Best Actor Oscar nominees.

Also terrific in the film is Edward Norton.  He plays a man who is multi-layered, and has his own bit of crazy.  Watching him perform, you get a feeling Norton was enjoying playing up the kind of character Hollywood has stereotyped him as.  The perception is that Norton is a difficult actor to work with, and so too is his character in the film.  Loved it.  Emma Stone plays Keaton's mysterious daughter; who has a great character arch throughout the film.  Both Norton and Stone have been nominated for Oscars this year as well.

There is some great comic relief from Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts.  Although bit parts, they are significant to the story.  I really enjoyed both of the actors in this film, especially Galifianakis.

The Cinematography 
Emmanuel Lubezki is nominated for Oscar this year for his work on this film; and actually won the award last year for his work in Gravity.  The cinematography in the film is simply too good to ignore.  The entire film appears to be one continuous shot.  You may think it plays as a novelty, or a gimmick, but I assure you, it does not.  It helps to push the story forward in such a way, that you can't tell how much time has passed between scenes.  This is to the benefit of other aspects of the film as well; the pacing, set design, and music, all feels cohesive because of Lubezki's work.  I loved it, and can't wait to see the movie again, just to try and find the cuts.

The Set Design
The majority of the film takes place in the theater, where the fictional play is being produced.  Set Designer, Kevin Thompson, with Lubeski's help, puts us inside the theater, to experience the events onscreen with the characters.  By the end of the film, you have a visual schematic of the theater that is multiple stories and spans across a huge space.  Great stuff hear.

What I didn't like about the film:
Birdman's Relationships
This may not be so much a negative, as it is me wanting more... but I wanted to learn more about the Keaton character's relationships with the other characters.  We barely scratch the surface of whether or not he was a good husband to his ex-wife.  What was he like when his films were making millions and millions of dollars?  How did his romance with a co-star in the play come about?  Why is the Galifianakis character his only friend?  These could only be answered if the movie inched towards 3 hours, and we wouldn't want that!  But something to think about.

The Verdict:
An Unexpected Oscar Frontrunner
I would venture to guess that no one saw Birdman as an Oscar frontrunner, prior to its release.  The film has been nominated for 9 Oscars and is the early favorite for several categories.  I really enjoyed the film; but not as much as some of the other Oscar hopefuls I've seen.  I'd strongly suggest you go see the movie, as it is a unique story, about unique characters; told in a style that will surely be copied for years to come.

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