‘Birdman’ soars into theaters tomorrow
ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR
Oscar season is officially here, and it has unexpectedly arrived on the wings of Alejandro Inarritu’s “Birdman.” Through captivating cinematography, a clever script and a cast that thrives on the emotional depth of the story, the movie announces itself as a revitalization of the true theater the film industry was founded on.
In many ways, “Birdman” is a social commentary on the plight of the fallen Hollywood star. Michael Keaton fittingly assumes that role as Riggan Thomson, an ambitious, neurotic has-been who is seeking redemption in a place he is constantly told that he does not belong: Broadway. By writing, directing and acting in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story, it appears that Thomson is blissfully unaware of the expectations of stage theater which reflects the film’s alternate title, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.”
Although the film spends a lot of time inside the ego-driven, derailed mind of Thomson, it is his relationships with others that reveal some of the deeper themes. Not the least of these is Thomson’s constant struggle with his ultra-talented, loose cannon co-star Mike Shiner. Portrayed by Edward Norton with a performance that alone is worth the price of admission alone, his erratic character maintains a deep obsession with depicting true art. It leads him to do things like drink actual gin onstage and request replacing the prop gun with a real one to evoke raw fear. Take one guess how that turns out.
While Shiner’s critique on theatrical art vs. the Hollywood on-camera spectacle is key to the film, it is not everything. Thomson’s daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone, is the voice of his existential crisis. This includes a show-stopping monologue that questions her father’s intentions and egotistical desire for relevance. Similarly, Zach Galifianakis plays Thomson’s agent who provides the fleeting rational viewpoint for his client. All of the characters collectively act as a mirror for Thomson, driving the inner battle that pervades the film.
Besides the acting and the script, it would be a crime not to mention the technical achievements accomplished by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who was responsible for the visually dazzling “Gravity.” It would seem like a big jump to move from outer space to one Broadway theater, but Lubezki exceeds those limits. The combination of 360-degree shots, a bevy of close-ups and the illusion of one, continuous scene for the whole film, places the audience backstage and gives the project its life.
Inarritu’s film is genius. It brings elevated, creative elements from all aspects of filmmaking together for one, remarkable cinematic experience. Whether student, faculty or neither, any lover of film should treat themselves to this movie.