I have never been a fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.I find his films self-important, over-plotted, over-long, ponderous, and so forth. They all contain moments wonderful, profound, beautiful and hysterically funny, but those moments are always surrounded by so much unnecessary crap and, usually, two narrative arcs too many. I have long felt the man needed a creative partner – or, perhaps, better yet, some kind of supervisor – to tell him to cut the most of the intricate plotting and focus on his strong characters.
Well, I don’t know what he got into, but has he ever changed. Birdman is such a lively, vibrant, well-paced near-perfect film that I have trouble imagining it came from the same man who produced overdone stuff like Babel. I mean, who is this guy?
Inarritu appears here as an utterly confident, mature and playful – oh my science, I can’t believe I am saying that – director in full command of his medium. The film is a series of (seemingly) epic takes spliced together via the wonders of digital film to create one, single take. The camera follows various members of the cast, principally the Birdman himself, through the production of an attempt at turning a Raymond Carver short-story collection into a single play (yes, that’s one of the jokes). The lack of (obvious) cuts gives the film a sense of momentum unseen in any of Inarritu’s previous films and, frankly, unseen in most films. The film is further propelled (literally) by a score that is almost entirely just drums – which, at times, match the action on screen- given a perpetual sense of forward progress to a film about the production of a play.
The film is often hysterically funny and it features great performances from Keaton and Norton – in the showier roles – but also great supporting turns from Galifiniakis (who knew???), Watts (but of course) and some others. (Emma Stone is, to me, the only slightly disappointment, and this is coming from someone who is normally a fan. I just felt I could detect a little too much Acting in her big moment.) The film asks questions about the nature of art and celebrity (and their respective legacies) in the age of twitter and youtube while, as I already noted, being hysterically funny.
The only thing keeping me from giving it top marks is the ending: First, a little detail that they deliberately got wrong, and I can’t figure out the reason why. I am very puzzled and nothing I can come up with can fully reconcile that. Second, the ending is ambiguous but ambiguous in a way that suggests much of the movie was interpreted wrongly by the audience and I am not sure I like that avenue.
But beyond those little nitpicky things, an excellent, excellent film.