Release date: January 2, 2015 (United Kingdom)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture, more
Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifiankis, Naomi Watts and more.
Cultural relevance. The very best films throughout history have cultural relevance. From Citizen Kane to The Deer Hunter, the best movies are more than just enjoyable. Cultural Relevance is arguable one of the biggest qualities separating the wheat from the chaff, the good from the great! Just take a look at the best movies from 2015. Mad Max, feminism. The Hateful Eight, racism. Ex Machina, ethical conundrums surrounding artificial intelligence. Spotlight, The Big Short, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, need I go on? It's no wonder then, that a story about the human desire for relevance, for admiration; for love, ends up taking home the 87th Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It does not however justify why it also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography while also picking up nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound editing. No. Those nominations came not from a culturally relevant, hard hitting premise but they came from an all round fantastic piece of art and craftsmanship.
Birdman, is the story of an old, washed up, haggard, former superhero movie star trying to prove to himself and the world that he is still relevant, that he's still great, that he is an artist. That movie star is Riggan Thomson (Keaton) and Riggan Thomson is risking everything to write, direct and star in a Broadway play based off a short story by Raymond Carver. While discussing the philosophies surrounding fame in the 21st century Birdman also pries open the door to the emotional damage and destruction present amongst actors and their ilk. The subject material is intense, and it deserves an intense visual depiction. That is what cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki provides perfectly. The subject material is personally profound, the set is claustrophobic and the in-your-face visuals captured by Lubezki serve to accentuate these qualities. With an ordinary shooting style the profundity of this work would probably be lost but instead Lubezki and Innaritu deliver a feverishly intimate film.
Of the many joys present in Birdman, Edward Norton's character (and performance) is surely one of the best. Norton plays the exception and much revered stage actor Mike Shiner. After a stage light falls and cripples the supporting actor the night before the first preview, Riggan is delighted to learn that Shiner has offered himself to fill the role. Shiner's brilliance shines through immediately, but with true brilliance often comes mild insanity, as the cast and crew quickly find out. Norton's character is not alone in being deeply and profoundly crafted, possessing a wide range of intrigue and interest. Emma Stone's role, as Riggan's drug addled daughter, exemplifies the dangers of absent parents, Galifianakis, while humorous, shows what it takes to support a true friend but Riggan Thomson embodies the main theme, and a character trait uniting the whole cast, the dangers of a fragile or absent sense of self and true identity.
This movie is brilliantly balanced, brilliantly crafted and truly affective. The cultural relevance, while mostly under looked, is not to be ignored. Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance deserves a place in the social iconography of the 21st Century.
I only wish I had seen it earlier.
Joyously written by,
Image courtesy of FOX SEARCHLIGHT