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Birdman

Birdman

Good Man – ★★★★½

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film gives you one of the most memorable, thought-provoking and hilarious cinema experiences you could ask for.

The film tells the story of Riggan, a film actor (Michael Keaton) who is in a psychological state of decline as he struggles to feel relevant, having made his name as the action hero “Birdman” nearly a quarter-century ago. To do this, he decides he will direct, write and star in a Broadway theatre adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Ambitious to say the least.

The play’s producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is the closest thing to a sane person on show here with the cast consisting of Edward Norton, Ireland’s Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts as cracked as you would expect. A thin – and bordering on waif-like here – Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter who is a recovering drug addict and now acting as his assistant. Rounding off the main cast is Amy Ryan, our hero’s ex-wife, who appeared to almost be hedging her bets to see if she’ll get back with Riggan or not. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the whole production, with the odds stacked against them due to influential New York Times theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson’s hatred of Hollywood action stars.

Cock Fight

Cock Fight

Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have gone for the ambitious step of utilising a permanently moving camera which results in one continuously moving shot. This serves to keep the viewer lured in on the screen’s proceeding and the steady-cam shots are the perfect tool for moving around the backstage of a Broadway theatre. Of course there are plenty of tricks in play – both in-camera through pans and countless blank space visual effects shots – and so while it’s not quite as impressive a feat as it would have been for Hitchcock back in the day for Rope or Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 film Russian Ark, it still leaves an indelible impression and keeps you on the edge of your seat – even more so if you end up in a front row seat like this critic.

This film could show up in 2015-edition dictionary definitions of “meta” and manages to be self-referential, self-reflective and self-absorbed. Whether you live and breathe the world of Hollywood celebrity gossip or not, it does a great job of shining a light on the trappings of that industry, following on nicely from Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars from a few months back.

The star of the show is of course Keaton. What none of the film’s marketing really revealed was just how troubled his character was and how much Birdman would deal with his state of mind. This is basically a film about a man on the verge of collapse experiencing hallucinations as he battles with his own sense of self-importance. His performance is note-perfect and would have been as convincing without the bells of whistles of the Birdman character and the telekinesis.

A slightly troubling final scene and a few issues with the film’s final act prevent the full five stars but it would take a right chump to knock Iñárritu and Keaton’s creation off its perch as an Oscar-favourite. Bring on the awards.

Released across Ireland on January 1st 2015

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Nigel

Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.