After you see the penultimate Hunger Games installment, whether because you want to or because society implores you to, go see Birdman. After you drop the kids off with grandma on a Big Hero 6 date, go see Birdman. Why are you even reading this review right now? Just GO SEE BIRDMAN.
This is a work of art. A genuinely surreal yet disturbingly realistic and compellingly rare film that takes every trope of modern film and spits in its face. Birdman is something that you should see once to experience, a second time to fully digest, and countless more times just to assure yourself that the 21st century can still output some incredible movies.
Birdman, written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) is a tale of relevance in the modern age, at a time when its themes couldn’t be more relevant. It is so shockingly in the NOW that you’d think it was made last week.
It seems like something that should have been novel that we should have read in high school. Its themes are mature ones, to be sure, but they are diligently and delicately molded into the very minutiae of the film. The subtle pop culture jabs and even subtler references to mythology. The gruff attitude of the film which, at least on the surface, seems to be so light-hearted and fun, only to scare us with its realism once the audience takes some time to dig deep into particular scenes and conversations. It all forms a perfect cycle of parity. You’d have to go back to 2011’s The Artist or 2007’s Juno to find such distinct thematic elements working together for the greater good of actually having something significant to say about society.
The majestic nature of Birdman is that it accomplishes so much with so little. So often movies are labeled as “rollercoasters”. Name any superhero property – whether it be the first, second, third, fourth, tenth installment – and you’ll find dozens of critics who are quick to call them “an absolute ride from start to finish!”
I’m not harping on big blockbusters. Some of them actually have substance, although that is an increasingly unique trait. But if that overused moniker of “rollercoaster” has truth to it with those films, then I can confidently say that experiencing Birdman is like injecting yourself with weaponized TNT and skydiving from Mars into the face of the Sun.
Yeah, it is that exhilarating.
There isn’t a single department Birdman doesn’t excel at. There just isn’t. The cinematography alone deserves several rounds of applause (as well as an Oscar). Virtually the entire movie is a single take, something that works to grandstanding effect and must be seen to be believed. There are two kinds of moviegoers: Those who notice the effect of cinematography, and those who are ignorant to it. Birdman converts the latter.
The score, seemingly made with nothing more than a single drum set, is captivating and engrossing.
The dialogue is Tarantino-meets-Aaron Sorkin. Wonderfully exaggerated yet so true to the situations and the film’s overarching themes of holding-your-ego-in-check-at-all-costs that the movie is almost self-aware of its own ridiculously wonderful irony.
Birdman is also one of the funniest films you’ll see this year, perhaps the funniest. In the vein of 2007’s There Will Be Blood or even The Wolf of Wall Street from yesteryear, Birdman uses humor so well to disguise its own masochistic themes, and arguably better than the two aforementioned films.
The acting is some of the best in any movie this year, too. The ensemble’s individual performances are what power the film. There’s nothing to say about Michael Keaton’s (RoboCop, Batman Returns) performance as washed-up movie star Riggan Thompson other than it will terrify you, suspend you, make you laugh, make you contemplate, make you wonder if this is the highlight of an otherwise colorful career. It is. And we should be grateful for it.
Name any other cast member and you have yourself a performance just as enthralling. Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zack Galifianakis. They all deliver. On such multilayered levels that they make their characters seem so inherently real. That is the trademark of great acting in a film.
Pacing is another strength of the film. Birdman does so well what other films strive so so so hard to do, only to fall flat in the end. Birdman simply never stops. There is never a dull moment, from its high crescendos of fast paced cinematic scurrying to its slower, more human moments. You never know what’s going to happen in the next moment, but you can bet it’s going to be there before you know it.
It truly is a shame that, unlike the Tonys for theatre, the Oscars have recently become so preferential towards historical dramas with themes that have been delved into countless times. Although they are sure to recognize Keaton’s performance, as well as the stupidly incredible camera work, there is no doubt Birdman will be grossly overlooked by the Academy.
Just make sure you aren’t overlooking it. You’d be skipping out on a masterpiece of modern cinema. And once you see the film, you’ll understand why that is the greatest irony of all.
In a Nutshell
Mr. Iñárritu has given us something special, something that deserves the mature moviegoer’s admiration. A wholly original piece of art that seemingly is long overdue, but actually arrived just at the right moment. Other movies can utilize their technological standard-raising methods and budget-busting capabilities to create something memorable. But Birdman aims to be something more. It aims to be as devilishly charming as anything released in recent decades.
10 / 10 or The Best Picture of 2014. If the Academy doesn’t coronate it as such, I sure as hell will.
Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu