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March 5, 2021

Birdman

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The long wait for possibly the most previewed movie ever is at last over, and if Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece is sometimes weighed down by wordy gravitas, that should not in any way detract from its worth.

Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a legendary Hollywood actor, universally known as Birdman the super-hero. He has moved from LA to Broadway to direct and star in his own play about Raymond Carver, the introspective poet and short-story writer.

But can he adapt to the ‘real life’ of the stage after the fantasy of the screen?

Can he re-invent himself as an artist?

Can he make himself relevant in a culture mired in tweets and celebrity worship?

His estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), unable to buy the particular flowers that he has requested for his dressing room, messages ‘whatever you wanted they didn’t have’ – and it is the line that encapsulates Riggan’s very being (and ours?).

Riven by doubt and jealous of others’ success, Riggan is tormented by Birdman’s ghost and wont to occasionally exercise the supernatural powers that he possesses – this latter trait, though essential in creating Riggan’s personal mythology, seemed to me to be at odds with the nuts and bolts of the film’s humanism.

The somnambulant cinematography by Iñárritu’s fellow Mexican, Emmanuel Lubezki, contributes enormously to the complexity and connectedness of all that happens. Incredibly long, labyrinthine tracking shots – they’re like an M C Escher drawing – seamlessly follow the players as they move from one location to the next, and from day to night, while Antonio Sanchez’s agitated drum score constantly augers calamity.

Despite the dark humour and raw observation, moments of tender forgiveness arrive as Riggan and his cast are all shown to be victims of life’s great pretending.

It is not unusual for intellectual profundity to be accompanied by self congratulation and Iñárritu, after his mighty achievement of laying bare the modern psyche, shows that he is not above this by allowing his movie to imperceptibly slide into hubris with an ending that, quite frankly, I didn’t buy.

~ John Campbell

 


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