Birdman, a modern day masterpiece

Published: February 23, 2015
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The film is very self-referential, which makes it relevant to our time. The constant references to superhero movies and social media are an indication of this. PHOTO: BIRDMAN OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE

Birdman has become the latest film to join the likes of 12 Years A Slave, American Beauty and Forrest Gump by winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. While many people are still sulking over Boyhood’s loss, I for one believe the Academy got it right this time. Birdman is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s masterpiece of our time.

Bold in execution, the film is a technical showpiece that succeeds on just about every level. Birdman is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into Hollywood, and the psyche of an actor. It’s also a satire on the film industry. While there have been many Hollywood satires – Robert Altman’s The Player is my personal favourite; Ed Wood and Barton Fink are also great lampoons – nothing quite like Birdman has ever made it to our screens before.

At the centre of it all is Michael Keaton, playing the role Riggan Thompson, a washed-up actor known to most people for playing a superhero character previously in a blockbuster movie. Now, however, he struggles to stay relevant and looks to write, direct and star in a theatre adaptation of Raymond Carver’s play, What We Talk About, When We Talk About Love?

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (L) and Michael Keaton (R). Photo: Birdman Official Facebook Page

Inarritu is known for providing us with endless downers and depressing, gritty melodramas like Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful. And then he gives us something like Birdman, which is the complete anti-thesis of his previous films. His kinetic and dynamic direction is what guides the movie. He has directed the film with such precision and energy that it boggles the mind. His willingness to take risks is truly impressive.

With endless tracking shots and close-ups, it’s directed and edited so beautifully well that it feels like it’s filmed in one long take. It’s great that the Academy decided to award Inarritu with Oscars for both writing and directing because he truly deserved them both. Emmaneul Lubezki’s wonderful cinematography gives the film its visual splendour with vivid, eye-popping imagery.

Michael Keaton’s tour-de-force comeback performance is truly the highlight of the show; this movie is to him what Pulp Fiction was to John Travolta and what The Wrestler was to Mickey Rourke. Sadly, however, he was passed over for the Oscar award, which, in my opinion, is a great injustice. Keaton’s performance is complete in every way; his portrayal of a struggling artist begging for relevance is truly wonderful to watch. What’s great is that Keaton’s character, Riggan, seems to be loosely based on himself as Keaton too was known for playing Batman in the Tim Burton movie and has since then been downgraded to smaller, supporting roles.

Michael Keaton. Photo: Birdman Official Facebook Page

The supporting cast clicks perfectly as well.

Edward Norton chews up the scenery in his show-stealing turn as Riggan’s cynical co-star Mike Shiner. Norton plays a character that is amazing onstage but is a constantly antagonising force behind-the-scenes. I have been a huge fan of Norton ever since I saw Fight Club and this is probably his best performance since American History X.

Edward Norton. Photo: Birdman Official Facebook Page

Emma Stone also turns up a career-best performance playing Riggan’s daughter, who has just gotten out of rehab and is swept up in between everything that is going on.

The writing too is impeccable and the screenplay written by Inarritu, Armando Bo, Nicholas Giacobone and Alexander Dinearis is brilliant as it’s filled with cracking dialogues and dark comedy. The characters are wonderfully envisioned. Antonio Sanchez’s excellent drum score beats non-stop and is the heart and soul of the film.

Emma Stone. Photo: Birdman Official Facebook Page

Birdman is a work of art, yes, but it’s also the philosophical questions it asks that makes it not only a great film but a great experience. Riggan’s arrogance forces us to confront the arrogance within ourselves. It forces us to come to terms with our own shortcomings.

The film is very self-referential, which makes it relevant to our time. The constant references to superhero movies and social media are an indication of this. The film’s dissection of actors, critics and audiences makes for some great, biting satire. The plot is somewhat ambiguous as well and makes you question abstract concepts like reality and existence, which is quite beautiful.

This movie is an intoxicating ride that grips the viewer from start to finish and I do believe that 10 years from now people will view it as a classic masterpiece of this decade.

So do yourself a favour, and go watch this phenomenal film if you haven’t seen it yet.

Khalid Rafi

Khalid Rafi

The author enjoys writing and is passionate about Pakistan Cricket. He tweets @TheKhalidRafi (twitter.com/TheKhalidRafi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abdullah

    Well summed up! i think this movie rocks, deserved every oscar, and Keaton and Norton, don’t get me started on themRecommend

  • Ghost of Heath Ledger

    Well writtenRecommend

  • Saima

    Great critique!!!! You write like a true critic, well done!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I am still sulking over the boyhood loss. give me my coffee and bagel and let me live in my cocoon of quilt.Recommend

  • Ghazali

    Excellent synopsis… Recommend

  • Aisha

    I’m sorry but this movie just didn’t agree with me. A little too heavy handed for my simple tastes. I loved The Theory of Everything the most.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Thank You all for the kind words.Recommend

  • Khalid

    I can understand that, the surrealism of the film can be a little too much for some people but for me that’s what made it so great.Recommend

  • Neha Haq

    Am I the only one who thinks The Grand Budapest Hotel should have won?Recommend

  • anwar

    How did michael keaton not win??? he was riveting.Recommend

  • Danial

    Naaah, Whiplash was the best movie, it should’v wonRecommend

  • The Unexpected Virtue of…..

    Boyhood was an overrated and highly under-cooked experiment from Linklater, not to mention an extremely tedious film. Comparing it to the other nominees is a damn shame. It was a gimmick movie and Im glad the Academy decided to award it to something as ingenious as Birdman.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I liked it. And so did countless others. but everyone has a right to their opinion .
    Now I like throwing around facts so here are some tidbits. This is just information. I am not arguing anything. I liked the movie, you didn’t, to each his own.
    The aggregators show that boyhood was liked more.
    Birdman received acclaim, particularly for Keaton, Norton, and Stone’s performances. At Rotten Tomatoes, it has a rating of 93% based on 254 reviews, with average rating average of 8.5/10. Metacritic gave the film a score of 88 out of 100
    while on the other hand Boyhood received near-unanimous acclaim from film critics. It holds a “certified fresh” score of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 261 reviews, with an average rating of 9.3/10. On Metacritic, the film has a full score of 100 out of 100.
    Boyhood appeared on more critics’ annual “best-of” lists in 2014 than any other film, including the most first-place votes.According to CriticsTop10.com, it was included on 536 lists and topped 189 of them — both records by that site’s count.Recommend

  • The Unexpected Virtue Of……

    Gladiator won Best Picture in 2001 with a RT score of 76%, Beautiful Mind and Crash had scores of 75%. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close won a Best Pic nomination in 2012 with a RT score of 46%, this shows that critics have very little impact on these things. The IMDb rating for Boyhood is 8.2 and Birdman has an 8.1 rating. Furthermore, I understand that and I respect your opinion all Im saying is that Birdman outmatched Boyhood in just about every field. Birdman was better acted, Keaton and Norton at the top of their game. Boyhood featured good performances from Hawke and Arquette but nothing as gripping. Coltrane’s performance on the other hand was quite mediocre. Birdman had more dynamic and innovative direction. Birdman had a better story and a better screenplay whereas Boyhood featured some extremely stupid dialogue, and the whole film lost it’s momentum towards the second half. I was baffled by the nominations for writing. Birdman completely trumps Boyhood in technical categories like cinematography, score, sound etc. Boyhood had very little conflict, there were practically no antagonists or antagonizing situations and Linklater made some major storytelling errors. Birdman was the exact opposite. I understand you liked Boyhood, everyone has their own tastes Im simply explaining why I think Birdman is better.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    quite true sometimes critics have little effect. but I have not seen any movie dominate the opinion polls like boyhood.Recommend

  • http://www.unmexicoposible.com/ JoseAngel

    Great review. I am dying to watch this movie again. I grew up reading magic realism novels, this movie it´s just that, in addition to so many other things.Recommend

  • Shahid

    Excellent review!Recommend

  • Shahid

    Yeah the love for Boyhood has been a little unbelievable. I think the reason it didn’t win was because it wasn’t the stuff they usually reward Oscars to. Birdman on the other hand was about show biz and a little more artistic, I think the voters connected with that. They’ve awarded movies about showbiz in the past as well (Argo, The Artist) so I suppose it’s not that much of a surprise, Birdman entered the night as favorites anyway.Recommend

  • Hammad

    MashAllah! Great to see someone as young as you writing so well. Good show and keep it up!Recommend

  • Above the poverty line

    I happened to see this movie after reading your review and i have to say i agree with everything you have to say, the whole thing was truly a work of art, an extremely intoxicating experience from start to finish.Recommend

  • Jahanzaib

    Am i the only one who didnt like this movie??Recommend

  • twentysomething

    Emma Stone in this movie :DDDDDDRecommend

  • notary

    Its amazing that every other movie is drawing closer in ratings etc to the likes of Godfather. Perhaps, its time to bump those masterpieces to 12+. Whiplash appeals only those who know the intricacies of music, or the ones who breathe music. In the bigger picture of cinema going audience, the admiration is negligible.Recommend

  • notary

    I wasted time watching the movie, read tons of reviews to understand why did it get Oscars. The fact is that the admirers are trying to just justify the movie and even they dont know why. Just because it got Oscars, they feel compelled to do that. From your own review, please remove the movie’s name and then read it. You will understand what i mean.

    If a movie fails to connect with majority of a diverse audience, its a flop. Remove actors, film makers, directors, and rest of the industry people and wannabe segment, and tell me who likes it?

    Entertainment has a simple rule. Suspend your disbelief and connect to actor(s) of the movie. Can you tell me how do I connect? I would have liked the movie had it been about stunt men of the industry. They are the real heroes.

    And I really dont know how does its premise even hold. Actors do not become Charlie Sheen unless they do a series of stupid mistakes. So, how do i hold sympathy for Rigan Thomspon? No actor ever gets irrelevant. “Al” Pacino is an obvious example.

    We are living in an age where putrid books like fifty shades of grey are top sellers. I will not be surprised if Birdman will be a masterpiece of this decade. If lady gaga can perform for the Queen, everything is possible.Recommend

  • Usama

    An art movie .. frankly speaking not many have that taste of artistic movies like Birdman..Recommend

  • The Guest Star

    Obviously, this movie is not going to appeal to a wider audience, its an art film, it isnt made for the greater audience. If u want entertainment go watch Fast and Furious or Die Hard. Indie movies are not made to make money, they are made so they can be appreciated, if u dont like it then fine, the author did make the mistake of recommending it to everyone, this movie isnt for everyone but it is a beautiful look into the mind of a man who must try his best to stay relevant, the performances are great, the direction is truly deft and it is a wonderful film but its not for everyoneRecommend