Written by The Kendog   
Thursday, 06 November 2014 15:57









Howdy folks! It’s The Kendog!



Sometimes something totally original comes along in movies that blows your hair back and sets cinema on its ear. After reading early reviews of BIRDMAN, I thought that Michael Keaton’s latest would be one of those events. After viewing the film I can say that for the most part, my fellow critics are correct. BIRDMAN is one of the most original pieces of film I’ve ever encountered in a theater. That said, Alexander Gonzalez Inarittu’s (BABEL, 21 GRAMS) latest is also cluttered and unnecessarily loud.




BIRDMAN tells the tale of Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor known for playing the superhero Birdman twenty years ago. In an effort to regain relevance, Riggan has sunk all of his money into a Raymond Carver play “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” The play is a mess, with actors getting hurt and early premieres going haywire. To top things off, Riggan’s alter-ego is talking to him at the most inopportune times and might be giving him some of the powers of his comic book persona.





To tell you anymore of BIRDMAN’s plot would be doing you a grave disservice. Inarittu’s script (co-written with Nicolas Giacobone) is a twisting, turning affair that examines what it means to be relevant, not just to society but to one’s own family. Riggan’s passion for the project leaves him vulnerable to his own emotional blind spots concerning his daughter (the excellent Emma Stone), his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough), and his best friend/agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis). Complicating matters even further is that their leading man Mike (Edward Norton) is an arrogant method actor whose antics constantly threaten to derail the already precarious production.




The beauty of BIRDMAN can be found in Inarittu’s inventive camera technique, often involving long, unbroken takes following the characters through the dense labyrinth of the theater’s halls and rooms. There is a sense of energy that is unlike anything that’s in film right now. Inarittu also uses some equally inventive visuals to follow what’s going on inside Riggan’s head at any given time, showing the audience that not all of Riggan’s dogs are barking, if you take my meaning. A set piece involving his alter-ego and a possible comeback in as impressive as anything seen in the big budget action films during the summer.



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The film’s primary strength lies in the performances. Keaton, who’s been off the radar for a while now (aside from a nice turn as the villain in ROBOCOP), is masterful here, portraying ambition, humor, sadness and desperation, sometimes all in the same scene. It is a terrific performance and when the movie focuses on him, BIRDMAN literally soars. It isn’t surprising that Keaton (who’s biggest hit was the 1989 Tim Burton BATMAN) identifies so well with this role. The supporting performances are all very good as well, with high marks going to Norton as the prima donna lead, Naomi Watts as his suffering girlfriend, and Emma Stone as Riggan’s exasperated daughter. It’s also nice to see Zach Galifiankakis playing something other than a mentally challenged man-child.





So what keeps BIRDMAN from being the best film of the year? For starters, the film seems a tad scattershot when it comes to getting down to the meat of the story for the first half-hour or so. I had trouble getting into the movie’s rhythms until about the forty minute mark. BIRDMAN just felt too busy to me up until that point, like a juggler keeping nine balls in the air when he’s only ever been adept at juggling eight. Of course I’ll have to see it again to see if those opinions change but for me the first impression is that of a film trying to find its balance.






The second thing involves the use of jazz music, particularly the drums, to demonstrate Riggan’s emotions at any given time. To put it simply, the drums were just too much, almost headache inducing, actually. I get that there are a lot of emotional marbles rattling around in Riggan’s head, but Keaton does a fine job of letting us know that without the pervasive percussive (say that five times fast, heh) reinforcement. It was just too much and unnecessary at that.



Overall though, the good and sometimes great outweigh the negative in BIRDMAN. If you want something off the beaten path and filled with Oscar caliber performances then BIRDMAN may just be your cup of tea. SO SAYETH THE KENDOG!



BIRDMAN is Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.



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