I’m not entirely sure how much I enjoyed “Birdman”, the latest film from Alejandro González Iñárritu. It’s certainly an impressive technical achievement, although its primary selling point in this respect – the fact that, for the vast majority of its length, it appears to be one long take – isn’t necessarily essential to the telling of the tale, since it neither unfolds in real time or from a single point of view; the effect is of a trippy, stream-of-consciousness ride.
The narrative is anchored around a powerfully edgy central performance from Michael Keaton as the former superhero-movie actor attempting to re-invent himself by staging a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway; he is matched by Edward Norton as his co-star and rival in alpha maleness. Emma Stone also excels as his world-weary, fresh-out-of-rehab daughter as do Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts as emotionally vulnerable fellow actors, and Lindsay Duncan as a coolly vicious theatre critic; it’s also good to see Zach Galifianakis playing a vaguely recognisable human being.
At various points it seems as though “Birdman” is about the neurotic nature of the actor’s existence or the redemptive power of art. Its real subject, however, appears to be the male ego in all its glory and ugliness. With woozy naturalism punctuated by moments of CGI excess, the storytelling is intentionally confusing and dislocatory. There are emotional truths at its heart, however, so the gratuitous cinematic tricksiness can be forgiven.
While the film is perhaps a little too fond of its own cleverness to truly love, it’s certainly an admirable piece of work.