Movie Review: Birdman (2014) Michael Keaton, Edward Norton

Birdman still michael keaton

Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is, without question, one of the very best pictures of 2014

Michael Keaton with the best performance of his career, Edward Norton returns to top form

The co-writer and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) has a perfect record of making very intriguing and refreshing films, all of which are multiple award winners and Oscar nominees, and Birdman, despite being his debut feature comedy, has already won a few awards and it definitely has a huge potential to win a few more at the coming Academy Awards. Does it deserve all these recognition? 100% yes. If you know the ensemble cast here, it’s quite certain that you would love this rather unique, ambitious and unpredictable dark comedy.

First thing’s first, this is not a superhero action movie so don’t feel misled if you didn’t bother checking before watching. It may not be for everyone, particularly not kids or people who prefers conventional comedies, because Birdman is anything but conventional. The film has a layered story featuring Michael Keaton playing an alternate version of himself by the name of Riggan Thompson, who’s a washed-up actor who was once very popular for the role of the iconic titular superhero.

Birdman still Edward Norton Michael Keaton

Riggan, in an attempt to revive his career, throws everything he has left into a Broadway production with a play that he wrote and will be acting and directing in. Just days before the opening night, he struggles with not only the production and the people he works with, but also his own ego and expectations as he battles with his imaginations and the discouraging Birdman voice (that sounds like an imitation of Christian Bale’s Batman voice) inside his head. Throughout the film at the story’s theater, we see how Riggan go through chaotic production problems and conflicts with himself and the people around him to avoid massive failure.

It’s obvious that Keaton is practically playing himself because the characters mentioned that Riggan hasn’t been relevant ever since 1992 when he turned down a huge offer to act in another Birdman sequel because it sucks. Not sure how many of you know but Michael Keaton was the popular Batman back then.

Michael Keaton Birdman Batman 1992

Keaton may not be broke in real life, but he is indeed old now, I bet the kids don’t know about Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) and Batman films (1989, 1992), and his other recent roles were the villain in the Robocop remake and the underground race competition host in the crappy movie adaptation Need For Speed. His career was considerably dying just like Riggan’s. Perhaps that’s where this great performance of his came from. He could relate to the story and just like how his character Riggan is trying to give his best in the stage play, Keaton was trying to give the performance of his career, and he did, bagging the Golden Globe Award for it.

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The story is brilliantly layered between showbiz satires, reality, fiction, Keaton, the character, imagination and Riggan’s play. It goes around and closes with an ending that people would talk about after. In a comedic form, it’s a story about self-acceptance and how people could put so much unnecessary weight onto themselves that it prevents themselves from soaring and gaining happiness. It’s weird, hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. A well deserved Golden Globe win for the Best Screenplay and I hope it wins Best Original Screenplay in the coming Oscars too.

Zach Galifianakis Birdman

The film is backed by a very strong ensemble cast featuring the best Edward Norton (Fight Club, American History X, Primal Fear) performance in years. Coincidentally, Norton was a one-time superhero too, as Marvel’s Incredible Hulk (2008). Here, he plays Mike Shiner, a famous play actor who struggles to be himself off the stage and constantly challenges the quality of Riggan’s production, despite Riggan being his boss. And coincidentally, Emma Stone is now the late girlfriend of Peter Parker from the Amazing Spider-Man 2. Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and assistant, who was a junkie and cares for nothing. The rest of the ensemble cast includes Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough who serve their respective supporting roles very well too.

The unique thing about this film is its cinematography and editing that made it seem as though the entire film is one long continuous shot or take, which quickens the pace as though there’s not already so much going on around at the theater. Although not the entire film, every single scene is indeed a one-shot, which is incredibly impressive and it displays just how great these actors can really perform, allowing them to make each scene feels extremely real. Some scenes, surprisingly, even have cool special effects to convey Riggan’s imaginations and how much he actually misses being Birdman. The quirky scores mixed with classical music (which was the reason why it’s disqualified by the Oscars from being a nominee for Best Original Score) blends in well to further provide the amusing and sad feel of the situation.

Emma Stone Birdman ending

I can’t think of anything else to say. This film is just absolutely brilliant. It’s both art and entertainment, which is rare to me. Thoroughly engaging and absolutely funny despite the considerably heavy plot. It’s probably one of the best and more complex comedies I have ever seen in years. I hope it wins big in the coming Academy Awards.

What I would’ve named the film: “Michael Keaton”

Malaysia censorship: The camera focus during kissing sequences and indicated nudity are zoomed and panned away just like how they did it for Gone Girl here. Censoring films is certainly way better than chopping a chunk out of a scene.

Second opinion: My girlfriend agrees that this is one of the best films of 2014.

Verdict: 2014 was a great year for movies but Birdman is one of the very few that’s innovative, impressive and highly entertaining at the same time.

Rating: 5 / 5

Birdman poster malaysiaGenre: Dark comedy
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough

Malaysia Release Date: 22 January 2015 (exclusively at select GSC cinemas only)
Rated: 18
Local Distributor: 20th Century Fox Malaysia
Production: Regency Enterprises, Worldview Entertainment

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