With 9 Oscar nominations, a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an 8.5 score on IMDb, a bunch of five star reviews and my friend saying that it was his favourite film of all time, I guess you could say I wanted to like this film just a little bit more. Birdman follows the story of a washed up actor named Riggan (Michael Keaton), a man who's career has gone downhill ever since he hung up the cape for his iconic superhero role, Birdman. To redeem himself, he decides to put on a play. This film follows his story throughout the few days beforehand, and what a story it was.
If I were to say just one thing about Birdman, the first word that comes to mind is ambitious. There's no denying that this film tries. My god, does it try. It's a technological masterpiece, evident by the fact that the film has been edited to look like one continuous moving shot. Yep, you read that correctly. One continuous shot that spans over the course of multiple days. It's an achievement of cinema, and it's quite an experience that's worth seeing at least once. While it's fairly obvious where the cuts are, credit must be given to the editors for doing their best to hide these cuts. Credit that the Academy clearly didn't recognise, but whatever. I'm here to talk about the film, not the awards that it won or did not win.
The fact that this film actually got pulled off is rather impressive, but it leaves me wondering, how successful would the film have been without it being one long shot? Sure, there'd still be some love towards it, especially in terms of performances, but would the reactions be quite as positive? Who knows. Who cares? The point is that they pulled it off, no matter what the reasoning behind it is. While it took a little while for me to get used to it, once the shot gets going it really gets going.
The movement of everything is just so fluent. I'm not just speaking about the camera work either, but the pacing and runtime too. They just smoothly manoeuvre from scene to scene and without interruption. The time passes by rather quickly and by the time its all over you can't help but feel as if you've been on a journey, of sorts. Whether this was an extraordinary one, a mediocre one or a terrible one, that's up to you. I seem to be hearing all three of the mentioned reactions.
While all of the cast do terrific jobs, in particular Edward Norton, it's Michael Keaton that truly stands out. This is his film and his alone. He's the star of the show and his character is easily the most interesting of the lot. Still living off the fame of a superhero he once was, his character has been driven into madness, living a life of boredom and depression. He's interesting, to say the least, and in some ways, he's even reflective of Michael Keaton, who as we all know was once famous for playing Batman.
Another piece of reflection present in the movie is the actual play that Riggan is trying to put on. This play, in more ways than one, is a self reflection on his own life story, and it's the details like this that I loved about the film. Constantly wanting to be noticed and to fit in, his character manages to ambitiously write that into his own play, and this is at one point mentioned by Edward Norton, who straight up tells it to Riga's face, beginning a feud between the two characters that lasts for the entire movie.
The real problem with Birdman is that it thinks of itself too highly. Sure, it's a technological achievement, but beneath the surface it's not really as incredible as it wants to be. I really really really did not want to use the word pretentious when describing this film, but peer pressure has sunk in and it seems I must. But yes, there are certain scenes that I will admit are rather pretentious. There's multiple celebrity name drops in Birdman that I feel add nothing to the film except for the "look at me" reaction it was trying to get from them. It's a very showy movie, and while I enjoyed it as a whole, this showiness does take its toll.
To sum up, Birdman is an ambitious movie from start to finish. While it's a technological masterpiece, if you take away its one continuous shot, I don't feel that it would earn as much praise as it's currently receiving.
3 1/2 Stars