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Entries in Edward Norton (1)

Friday
Dec122014

2014 Year in Review: Birdman, The Movie of the Year

Birdman is jazz.  Sure, the score to the film is a free floating drum improvisation that would go brilliantly on any night club stage with Miles Davis, but the film itself is jazz.  Only a film this expertly crafted, this meticulously constructed could look so casual, so improvised.

That is the brilliance of Birdman.

Everything about this film feels so loose.  You are the fly on the wall of a Broadway theater on the eve of disaster.  Scenes bleed into one another, leaving stains around the edges of the frame.  It all appears as sheer beautiful chaos.

In case you are a little lost, let me explain.  Birdman was filmed as to appear that all you see on screen occurred in one continuous take.  This, of course, is not the case.  Digital trickery and clever editing conceal cuts that actually were made in the filming, but much of the film was shot in long takes that required incredibly intricate levels of coordination and choreography on the part of the actors and crew.  It is a feat to see.  This alone would solidify Birdman as required viewing for any aspiring film student but it is in its wonderfully creative and character rich story that Birdman soars (couldn't resist).

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed up Hollywood actor trying to resurrect his credibility after spending it all playing a costumed super hero named Birdman.  A part that would feel all too perfect considering Keaton's caped crusader past if it weren't for how he completely disappears into the role.

Everything that happens in the opening scenes of this movie is done to establish how completely out of his depth Riggan is.  He's trying to adapt an obscure collection of short stories by a mostly forgotten author, leaving him broke and with uninspired actors.  The solution to the latter problem comes in the form of a late arrival to his cast. A brilliant but mercurial actor, Mike Shiner, played by Edward Norton.   Mike represents the world of the theater: egotistical, judgemental, and obsessed with the authenticity of his "craft".  he makes a fantastic foil to Riggan's background as a cynical and superficial film star.

Riggan's quest to complete his would-be opus is populated with a slew of brilliant supporting characters.  Foremost among them is his daughter-turned assistant, Sam, played by Emma Stone.  Sam is the oft neglected child recovering from a drug habit searching for the father in the man she works for.  It is the kind of role sure to propel Stone to the top most echelon of Hollywood talent as well as give her plenty of hardware to decorate her mantle with come the close of award season.

Stone and Norton both give Oscar caliber performances.

 

Finally, this twisting whirland of a story offers one last piece to make it something unique for the ages.  Inside this brilliant character study of people is a subplot asking the audience to question if Riggan didn't just play a Superhero on the big screen, but if he secretly is one in his "normal" life.  Riggan appears to be able to levitate, hurl inanimate objects with his mind, and even fly through the sky when no one else is watching.  But when other characters enter, reality comes crashing back into the scene leaving the audience to wonder if Riggan's supernatural capabilities aren't just a figment of his slightly deranged imagination.

How much of it is real and how much imagined? The beauty of Birman is never knowing for sure.

Birdman is a film about desperation and duality.  A simultaineous celebration and send-up of the NYC theater scene.  A story about a group of people frantically trying to grasp something that might not be there at all.  The final shot of the film is one left open for the audience to interpret.  Either heroic or tragic.  This viewer believes it is a positive affirmation symbolizing overcoming one's own personal doubts and demons.  Only when you accept your past can you find the peace enough to fly into the future.