Sometimes writing a review should be treated like brewing a coffee, or a good tea. Or taking the time to marinate the living daylights out of a piece of meat. Thoughts need time to grow and opinions to form whilst you recount what you have just witnessed, good or bad. There is that strange sensation sometimes when you leave the cinema, and you can’t remember a lot about what it was you just saw “There were some funny bits….I think?” Sometimes films boggle your mind and you can’t decide whether you liked it or not. I remember seeing Troy and not knowing for about 3 weeks after the film if I preffered the Greeks or the Trojans, or if I even liked the film.
On this occasion, that was not the case. I have left the cinema all of half an hour ago and here I am, keen to get my opinion written down. The reason? Michale Keaton in his pants? Edward Norton playing a self obsessed, impotent actor, Zach Galifinakis wearing glasses? Yes. all of the above. The main reason though? This film is superb.
The Director (Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu – of Babel and first Mexican to be nominated for a best Director Oscar fame) is very brave with this film and boy does he need a pat on the back for his efforts. There are moments of total stillness, literally seconds where nothing happens. Normally that would drive me mad or it would be labelled as lazy or pretentious, but here? You can’t think of anything better for the moment. You don’t need to leave the film and let things marinate, he has done it for you in the film itself. There are sweeping camera shots that seem to last 15 to 25 minutes that follow actors around and nip around corners and up and down stairs. There is nowhere for the actors to hide and to me the film is all the more better for it. Conversations are had, then the camera follows the person to see where they go next, you see how that conversation affected them and how it drives them to have another conversation, it’s like theatre in film. It is therefore no coincidence that the film revolves around a theatre and a group of actors trying to find an “honest” performance and desperate for the chance to prove themselves on stage whilst simultaneously baring their souls in performance. The cinematography means that you are so much more involved with the characters and what they are going through and you need this, as the film is mostly set in one place. No sweeping shots of the countryside or anything like that, just a couple of shots of a beach and then for the most part, you are shown the action in and around a theatre on Broadway. And of course that’s wher it’s set, this is where so many actors aspire to be, it’s like Valhalla for these guys, but they find when they are there it’s not all flowing kegs of wine and beer and a naked harem of women like the Vikings thought.
Inside this theatre, the action is centred around Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a film actor. Known for starring as the title role in the Birdman superhero films, Thompson has now sunk all of his money into a Broadway revival of a classic piece from an American great, he has written the adaptation, he is producing it and starring in it also. So for him it’s balls out of the bath time. If it goes wrong it’s gameover.
I will not give any spoilers away as that would be a waste of monumental proportions. Needless to say that Thompson is battling with a number of demons, some physical, some emotional, and Keaton in my opinion, gives the performance of his career. It would be interesting to see how he got this role, was he offered it? did the writers have him in mind? did he have to fight to get it? The similarities to his own life having played Batman are striking. Maybe he can draw on his own feelings of angst having once been the caped crusader and now trying to give an “emotionally true” performance. Whatever it was he did to get there though, he is superb. You can’t take your eyes off him. He is also surrouned by actors at the top of their game. Any film is automatically made better with Edward Norton being in it (same true of Gary Oldman, even the new robocop) and here is no exception. He is brilliant as a flawed, self loathing, arrogant actor who can be true on stage, but nowhere else. The same can be said of Emma Stone, she is understated yet fiery and totally believable as a vulnerable young girl with her own demons that have been passed down to her from her father.
The film itself looks at a topic that it is good for hollywood films to be paying attention to. Mental illness. Not only the effects this can have on those with the illness, but on those around them. It is more light hearted and in a way whimsical than Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett but it is just as hard hitting. I hope that actors aren’t going for these roles with the big Oscar nod in mind. I don’t think they are, but I certainly hope not. It’s reminiscent of Kate Winslet in Extra’s who muses that any actor that plays a disabled person are guaranteed an Oscar, I hope the same cannot now be said of actors playing mentally ill people. No that Michael Keaton doesn’t deserve an Oscar, but films like these should be the rule, not the exception.
Finnally, the music. As I said with Rush, the soundscore of a film can often be overlooked with how it can add to the drama of a scene. Again the Director has done brilliantly here with how he weaves a brilliant score in to the drama. You are left unsure as to whether the music is actually being played (a drummer outside the theatre for example) or if it is all in Thompson’s head. The incessant noise is akin to the rise in tension that Thompson feels as things go from bad to worse. Either way the drums are a master stroke. Bloody brilliant.
So the rating. I don’t do this very often but 10/10. Bang on. Best film I have seen this year and it will take somethign extraordinary to be better. Maybe Wiplash.
Birdman – get it watched!
Was Birdman a 10/10 for you? Let me know below…..