Directors of Photography often don’t get the credit they deserve, but the role is often pivotal to the success of a film. Emmanuel Lubezki has an impressive CV. The Mexican cinematographer already has credits notched up for Gravity, To The Wonder, Tree of Life and Burn After Reading. His fellow countryman, Alejandro González Iñárritu, also has a string of directorial successes behind him, including Amores Perros, Biutiful and 21 Grams. They team up together on Birdman, which is both visually striking and thought provoking.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor, best known for donning the cape in the Birdman films. He’s decided to re-invent himself on Broadway, by adapting, directing and starring in a production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. With previews starting the next day, leading Thesp Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) joins Riggan, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Laura (Andrea Riseborough) in the show. However, as they lurch from one disaster to the next, his lawyer and friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) struggles to keep the production afloat. At the same time, Riggan doesn’t really know what to do with his wayward daughter Sam (Emma Stone)
There’s a beating heart pulsing through Birdman, which is driven by incidental freeform jazz drumming. As the actors riff off each other’s differing levels of distress and unhappiness, the pacing is in-time with the music. Most of the action takes place within the theatre. Iñárritu and Lubezki wind their way through the building in long continuous shots. They hound the actors, forcing the camera into their faces. Authenticity and acting come under the microscope with the sights set-on actors, critics, film stars, love, theatre and social media.
As a whole, Birdman feels slightly messy and a bit too pleased with itself. It does contain many pockets of utter genius – The long rambling takes, Emma Stone’s monologues to Keaton and Norton, beautiful transitional shots, the use of intense close-ups and the still corridor. It has a frantic energy, with the cast on edge at all times. It’s remarkably brave film-making from Iñárritu and an unflinching performance from Keaton. Birdman is a challenging romp which you’ll probably have to see more than once to piece tigether. And for the record, I agree with Riggan’s views on critics.
Birdman is out in cinemas now.