The word masterpiece gets thrown around a lot but do most of them really deserve that high of regard? Even if a film is an outstanding filmmaking accomplishment, it doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves the title “masterpiece.” Time is the one thing that can really decipher the difference between say, a masterpiece versus a genre classic. In the case of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman, I don’t want to step on the artsy fartsy crowd’s toes, or rain on the director’s parade, but while Birdman is a technical marvel, it is far from a masterpiece. Make no mistake, this is a film you need to see, but I will probably never watch it again.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up, former superhero actor, staging what he hopes will be the comeback of his career with the staging of a Broadway play. As if being surrounded by egotistical, self-absorbed actors isn’t enough, Riggan is also dealing with an alter-ego in a physical incantation of his Birdman character. Riggan also appears to be able to move things with his mind.
When an actor is injured during rehearsal by a stage light, Riggan forces his lawyer/best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) to recruit Mike (Edward Norton), a brilliant method actor who already knows Riggan’s play inside and out possibly better than he does himself. On top of getting the play ready, Riggan is starting to come unnerved over New York Times critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) aiming to get his production shut down, and his girlfriend/actress Laura (Andrea Riseborough) informing him she’s pregnant. Riggan is left trying to keep all his balls in the air and make it through opening night, but his id may have other plans in store.
Anyone who includes Birdman spoilers in their reviews, or at least gives more information than I just did, should be ashamed of destroying the ride Iñárritu takes his audience on. Filmed to appear to be staged all in one take, Iñárritu has delivered a visual knockout – in more ways than one. While this may sound like opposite opinion of what I said before, make no mistake, this is, at least, a technical masterpiece. Keeton gives the best performance of his career, and most of the rest of the cast manage to keep up. The only person who starts to become an irritant is Naomi Watts. She always come across as way more awkward in her role, never sure whether to underplay or overplay and usually winds up doing both in the same scene. Emma Stone and Amy Ryan meanwhile, are underused.
Thankfully, the finale makes up for any sort of storytelling blunders after it starts to suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen. It took four writers (Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo) to stretch this to a two hour breaking point, but the final act more than makes up for it. My main complaint is that watching a film of this length for this long with no cuts really starts to take its toll on your eyes. Imagine not blinking for two hours and that’s almost what it feels like by the time the credits roll. Birdman is definitely one of the most cinematic experiences in years and does demand to be seen in a movie theater, you just may want to bring along some eye drops. But make no mistake, we will be seeing this come Oscar time.
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