REVIEW: Birdman | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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fiveDirector: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifinakis
Run Time: 119 minutes
Certificate: 15

The start of the year always sees a flood of new releases as the studios try and get their prime candidates due attention ahead of the all-important awards season. Great news for those looking to start the New Year with some cultural interest perhaps, but also exhausting for all but the most dedicated cinephiles.

With that in mind, be sure to note that right now Birdman is the gold standard that all the other premier pictures fighting for screen time and nominations have to be judged by. It’s a film that balances staggering complexity and ambition with wild flights of fantasy and a thick seam of black humour, spending two hours walking the thinnest of tightropes and pulling off the trick without breaking sweat.

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it’s a film that rests largely on Michael Keaton’s performance as washed-up star Riggan Thomson, a challenge which Keaton meets by putting in one of his finest-ever performances

Much of the discussion around Birdman is sure to focus on the unique shooting style employed by director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who won the Oscar for Gravity this year, and must be likely to receive it again for his work here), providing the fine illusion of a single continuous take for the entire film. It’s a bold stylistic choice that could easily have become gimmicky or overwhelming, but in practice it quickly settles down to provide the perfect eye through which to see the claustrophobia and paranoia of a major Broadway production preparing for opening night. (A note here also for the unique percussive score by Antonio Sánchez – another bold choice that works far better than it really should, and provides a couple of fine rug-pulling jokes on the viewer as well.)

Birdman also boasts a counter-intuitive but consistently engaged ensemble cast that brings the squabbling troupe of actors to self-absorbed life. Edward Norton is superb as the egotistical, destructive lead actor, Emma Stone puts in a compelling performance as Michael Keaton’s semi-estranged, troubled daughter and Zach Galifianakis brings a magnificently un-dignified performance as the money-counting producer Jake. Even so, it’s a film that rests largely on Michael Keaton’s performance as washed-up star Riggan Thomson, a challenge which Keaton meets by putting in one of his finest-ever performances. His petulant, panicked Thomson is a twitching delight, unravelling before our eyes under the weight of self-inflicted humiliations yet retaining that essential glimmer of faded grandeur that his Birdman alter-ego feeds on.

Birdman spins a remarkable number of plates over its duration: it’s a witty satire on the insanity of celebrity and acting, a daring piece of formal innovation, a wild meta-textual tribute to Raymond Carver and more all at once – without ever letting any of them slip or slow. It’s a dazzling film in every sense that finds the cinematic year kicking off in the finest of style.

Birdman is now showing at the Tyneside Cinema.

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