Continuing to play catch-up, my latest review is Oscar-contender: Birdman.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor on the wrong-side of his career. Decades removed from being an A-Lister with a big budget Hollywood franchise, Riggan finds himself trying to re-establish his career by trying to self-finance a Broadway adaptation of 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love'. Trying to write, direct and star in the play, though, begins to take its toll on Riggan's professional and personal life.
Riggan's daughter, Sam, (Emma Stone) fresh from rehab takes a job as Riggan's assistant in an attempt to help make Riggan's passion project a reality. Troubles arise when Riggan and his lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) decide to hire method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) for the lead role of his play. Mike's ex, Lesley (Naomi Watts) co-stars in the play and their relationship is still a fresh wound which causes problems during rehearsals. Mike and Sam then begin to flirt which strains Riggan's already fragile psyche.
While trying to ensure he creates the best play he can, Riggan is tortured by Birdman, his inner voice, Birdman constantly reminds Riggan about his time when he was the envy of Hollywood. Egging Riggan on about how he should return to his roots as a Hollywood actor and give up the new life he is trying to start. All of these characters and problems begin to come to a head as Riggan struggles to get his play ready for opening night.
An idea that could be inspired by Michael Keaton's career, Birdman provides a perfect vehicle for himself and all actors within the film. Birdman is dripping with self-indulgence, yet each actor steps up and brings their A-game to elevate the film above its own self-important ideas. Michael Keaton allows the camera to show a man who's life has taken its toll on him. When not hiding behind the wigs used for his play, Michael Keaton is able to play Riggan as a man who understands that his life is not what he would want it to be, yet gives optimism that he may be able to save himself, or at least, what is left of his family.
Equally good is Edward Norton's Mike, who steals every scene he is in. Mike wants to be the best actor he can, and will go to any lengths allowed to be the actor he is. Funny, yet uncompromising, Mike and Riggan butt heads about what is best for the play. The interactions between both actors provide some of the best scenes in the film.
The star, though, is still Michael Keaton. For all the showy scenes in the film, the scene that works best comes when Riggan and his ex-wife, Sylvia, (Amy Ryan) discuss what Riggan has missed in his life by putting his career first. Michael Keaton completely owns the scene and shows how vulnerable Riggan is. The scene is Oscar-bat, for sure, but Michael Keaton uses his acting skills to really invest the audience in seeing that Riggan is a sad man and wants you to root for Riggan in an attempt to regain his life. Definitely one of the best scenes of the year.
Birdman is a true tour de force, filmed with the appearance of one-take by director Alejandro G. Innarritu. The acting, directing and screenplay are all top notch with the exception of the final scene. The film builds towards opening night and delivers in all ways one would expect. My issue comes after opening night. I will not go into specifics, but my feel is that Birdman should have ended with opening night as it feels like the logical conclusion. The last scene, though good in its own right, does not jive with the film that came before it. A slight letdown in an otherwise great film.
With great acting and directing, Birdman is my favorite film of 2014 and hopefully gets the recognition is deserves from the Academy.