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Birdman: Betting on a Long Shot

November 18, 2014

Birdman movie poster

Birdman is an amazing technical storytelling achievement. It is a one of a kind blend of acting, directing, writing and cinematography. There is a timely relevance to the story and in the days of comic books films and sequels is very welcome.

The story revolves around a washed up actor named Riggan (Michael Keaton) looking to reclaim legitimacy. He was the star of a billion dollar franchise called Birdman in which he quit after three films. The years haven’t been kind and he is betting everything on pulling off an adapted Raymond Carvers play.  His grasp with reality might be fleeting and Michael Keaton beautifully pulls of the pomp, insecurity, ego and depression of a lost man.

His situation isn’t helped when a light drops on one of his actors heads and is forced to bring in Edward Norton’s broadway diva at the last minute. He is the kind of guy who only feels alive on stage and is kind of a dick everywhere else. When the two get together their chemistry is wonderful and their back and forth is a highlight of the film.

Birdman Norton

The camera moves along fluidly while the jazz soundtrack blares in the background. The film was shot over thirty days and the rehearsals must have been exhausting. The film pinballs all over as it bounces around leaving the viewers mouth agape. It is a heck of a vision and it is clear why director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu put up a picture on set from the documentary Man on Wire (one of my favorite films).

man on wire

 

Everybody walked a tight rope and came out unscathed. Even if the film didn’t work it would have been in the words of Phililppe Petit a “beautiful death.”

Director Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel) and director of photography Emmanual Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men, Tree of Life, New World) have given us a grounded yet spectacular film. The film plays like one long take and it works seamlessly. I don’t think most people will appreciate what went into making the film what it is. Inarritu and Emmanual Lubezki have flipped the classic long shots (Hanna, Gravity, Children of Men,Atonement) and taken them out of a perilous setting. The long shots don’t feature epic battle scenes or fist fights. The scenes feature actors engaging in emotionally tense moments that last up to ten minutes. They walk, talk, and fight through slim corridors that must have given the steady camera operators nightmares. The closest example I can give is if the Spinal Tap lost in the corridors scene was one long take.

In an interview with EW Michael Keaton had this to say:

“You’d go home, and have dinner, and then you’d start to think about the next day’s work. And that’s when the panic would set in. These were all really good, accomplished actors. And everybody showed up every morning frightened. The crew too. I think we were all thinking, I don’t want to be the guy who lets everybody down.”

I was in constant awe of the film. It is a high wire act that has some balls. You could feel that that the actors all relished their roles and they all got a chance to shine.

Emma Stone Birdman

I’ve always been a fan of Michael Keaton. He has a distinct style that nobody can pinpoint. Beetlejuice, Batman, Multiplicity, Jackie Brown and The Other Guys are proof of a quirky career that never really adds up. He is always welcome in any film yet you never see that much of him. That is why he is perfect in Birdman. You sit there and watch one man range from crazy, sympathetic, selfish and caring in mere moments. The guy carries so many emotions on his shoulder it is hard to appreciate them all. I wouldn’t call it a comeback. I would call it a nice welcome back.

I hope that Edward Norton finally wins an Oscar and I loved seeing Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough given such great material. Riseborough has some of the best lines as Keaton’s long suffering girlfriend. She floats through the film and just goes with the flow as the people around her go a little bonkers. We will undoubtedly see some of these great actresses nominated for awards soon.

Watch Birdman. Appreciate the film making. Watch Multiplicity. I love that movie.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2014 4:27 pm

    Yes I love how you compared this to Spinal Tap being lost backstage. Good comparison. I loved this movie a lot. Great post

    • November 18, 2014 4:45 pm

      Thanks! Glad I got to sneak a Spinal Tap reference into a post.

  2. Victor De Leon permalink
    November 21, 2014 10:14 am

    Yes! Yes and Yes! Love that this movie is getting great buzz (and oscar buzz as well). I just saw that the local indie theater I volunteer at is still playing the movie. I am going to hurry up and go see it before it leaves. Stoked that you dug this one. Nice write up!

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