Birdman is the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a Hollywood actor who, in his prime, played a famous superhero character. Riggan is now struggling and trying to stage a Broadway play adaptation of a Raymond Carver story that he has adapted, stars in, directs, and produced. Parallels are immediately drawn between the character of Riggan and Keaton’s past, both peaking in their comic book years, and struggling since. Keaton is the perfect casting choice for Riggan and helps to cement one of the films major themes, that of Truth. Birdman constantly challenges what is truth and what is fiction. Riggan occasionally displays telekinetic powers, but never with any witnesses, provoking the thought of an unreliable narrator. The films editing does its utmost to debunk these thoughts, with very few noticeable cuts and the camera always tracking to the next scene, through a doorway or down a corridor. The use of this camerawork places the audience within the film, giving a more documentary type feel to everything, and cutting back on the audiences use of suspended disbelief.
Ed Nortan’s character, Mike Shiner, talks about how he is only true to himself when he is on stage and everything else isn’t real. Also, Emma Stone’s character, Sam, keeps asking to play ‘Truth or Dare’ with him, to which he only ever asks for ‘Truth’ because ‘truth is all that matters’. The line between truth and fiction becomes blurred throughout the whole film, apart from a few very distinct moments in which the audience are clearly shown what is expected to happen in a film. These scenes are placed to push the audience into believing that the rest of the events are real, because this is what a film is meant to be like, and the rest of the film is nothing like this.
Birdman relies heavily on close ups of all the actors during monologues and dialogues with other characters. Because of this, each actor is under extreme pressure to deliver as their face is filling the entire shot with nothing to distract the audience. Keaton delivers an astounding performance, a real tour de force and is truly remarkable from start and finish. Ed Nortan keeps up with Keaton, delivering a performance that will likely be up for awards. Zach Galifianakis has come a long way from his ‘man boy’ beginnings in films like the The Hangover, proving his ability to flee the pigeon hole created by his earlier films.
The film is a perfectly executed black comedy, mixed well with a beat heavy score and smooth camerawork. Birdman is something that will be very hard to top for originality, performances and all-round enjoyment, as we enter a new year.