Birdman was released to huge critical success and found itself sweeping up a number of Oscar wins in 2015, being declared the best film, direction, screenplay and cinematography of that year. So now, as The Academy Awards roll around again perhaps it’s time to ask, is Birdman really that good?
Birdman tells the tale of a washed up actor, once famous for Billion Dollar superhero movies, trying to reboot his career and establish himself as a ‘real actor’ by taking on the theatre. But not only is he struggling with his own demons he’s also dealing with the demons of those around him. this would be a bit too basic a premise if it weren’t for the colourful cast of characters and the movies flights of fantasy (but more on those later). It’s an engaging and well told story that clearly wants the audience to think about their Hollywood habits. But by the end of its two hour run time it becomes a little too heavy handed with its message.
The performances are one of Birdman’s highest points, Keaton and Norton have a fantastically acidic back and forth but the awards for ‘best scene stealer’ here go to two of the smaller parts. Emma stone is the first, with her playful, bitchy but ultimately endearing take on young Hollywood excess. Whilst Zack Galifianakis is the other, as he portrays the most likeable, yet heartless, bastard this side of The Wolf Of Wall Street. Between them these two steal nearly every scene in the movie, which is impressive considering the quality of performances they’re playing against.
However where the performances are strong, the visuals are stellar. The cinematography here is some of the most clever, inventive stuff put to screen in years. The entire film literally flows from scene to scene with the ‘entire film in one shot’ effect giving the movie a genuine feeling of the theatrical. The only problem here is that due to the lingering nature of the shots, sometimes the visual style gets in the way of the stories pacing.
But If the visuals are one of the high points then the soundtrack is one of the films lesser feature’s. The music of the film revolves around stripped back, heavy percussion tracks and it is, if nothing else, memorable. During most of the film it actually fits quite well, the problem here is not the quality of the music but the mixing of it. At times the drums become so powerful and loud that it’s hard to hear past them, so they overwhelm everything in and out of shot. This may be a stylistic choice but, stylistic or not, it makes the film uncomfortable to watch and at times just plain annoying.
The other major problem the film suffers from is it’s flights of fantasy. Whilst the majority of the story is told through grounded dialogue scenes, occasionally the film turns to dream-like sequences. These sequences start out small and quirky but quickly collapse under their own, ever increasing, scale. By the end of the film they turn from intriguing to exhausting and do nothing but pad out and undermine the film’s clever, grounded tone.
Birdman is clearly not a love letter to the Hollywood of today and it wants to make the audience think about the nature of the blockbuster and their viewing habits. Birdman, to put it simply, is the most pretentious superhero movie ever made, it’s not entirely wrong to have those pretentions and they are definitely worth thinking about. But Birdman goes a little too far in the other direction. It’s a brilliantly made film which, unfortunately, sits on a very high horse.
Overall, on a 100 point scale I would score Birdman: 7.0