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Birdman is “most sustained example of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen”

Todd McCarthy has posted his review of Birdman from Venice and it looks to be a solid Oscar contender in the major categories, picture, acting, directing, writing, as well as the techs, like cinematography.

Birdman flies very, very high. Intense emotional currents and the jagged feelings of volatile actors are turned loose to raucous dramatic and darkly comedic effect in one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement. An exemplary cast, led by Michael Keaton in the highly self-referential title role of a former super-hero film star in desperate need of a legitimizing comeback, fully meets the considerable demands placed upon it by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, as he now signs his name.

The film’s exhilarating originality, black comedy and tone that is at once empathetic and acidic will surely strike a strong chord with audiences looking for something fresh that will take them somewhere they haven’t been before.

And:

Birdman, which bears the rather enigmatic subtitle “Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” is not only centered on the world of the theater but takes place almost entirely within or very near the venerable St. James Theater on West 44th Street. This is where faded big screen luminary Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is about to begin previews for what he hopes will bring him renewed acclaim and respectability, ego boosters that have eluded him in the two decades since he decamped from the Hollywood mountaintop upon saying no to Birdman 4.

Of course, Riggan knows he’s fated to always be Birdman; he still keeps a poster from the franchise on his dressing room wall and the character’s voice sometimes squawks at him like a challenging alter ego. But he’s now put everything on the line, including his own money, to mount a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which he’s written, is directing and is co-starring in with Lesley (Naomi Watts), another film star making her Broadway debut, and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a sometime lover who’s more keen on him than vice versa.

When the other male actor in the piece startlingly becomes incapacitated, Lesley’s boyfriend Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a major film name, immediately volunteers to step into the breach. This is a godsend for the box office but a wild card in terms of the quartet’s dynamics, as the quicksilver Mike is a fiendish manipulator (quite the jerk, actually). After unsettling Riggan at his first rehearsal by having already memorized his part and then demanding rewrites, Mike detonates the initial public preview by drinking real gin (this is Carver country, after all) instead of water onstage.

More raw nerves are supplied by Riggan’s straight-from-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), whom Dad has perhaps misguidedly engaged as his personal assistant. Riggan has to listen to Sam’s tirades about how his resistance to Twitter and blogging make him even more a has-been than he was already, this on top of Laura’s news that she’s pregnant and his concerns over what outrage Mike might provoke at the second preview.

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Next we have Variety’s Peter Debruge:

In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s fifth and best feature provides the delirious coup de grace — a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton’s career.

And:

Circling shark-like around Keaton, then darting off to stalk other actors, Lubezki’s camera is alert and engaged at all times, an active participant in the nervous backstage drama. Taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” the meticulously blocked shoot cleverly finds ways to mask cuts, using invisible visual effects to stitch together various scenes so it appears that the entire film is one continuous take, even though the events take place over several weeks and in various uptown Gotham locations — primarily Broadway’s St. James Theater, but venturing out anywhere that Riggan can walk or Birdman can fly.

In addition to being a virtuoso stunt in its own right, this single-shot illusion serves to address the critique that screen acting is somehow less demanding than stage acting, since there are no conventional editing tricks in place to shape the performances. The cast has no choice but to ante up, which everyone does in spades, and the film is built generously enough that everyone gets ample time to impress (although it should be noted that none of the background sexual intrigues amount to anything).

Inarritu’s approach is mind-boggling in its complexity, nearly as demanding on Lubezki as “Gravity” must have been, such that even seemingly minor jokes, as when the camera spies the drummer responsible for the pic’s restless jazz score (by Antonio Sanchez) lurking on the edge of the frame, had to be perfectly timed. It’s all one big magic trick, one designed to remind how much actors give to their art even as it disguises the layers of work that go into it.

27 Comments on this Post

  1. So it looks like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography are locks, Best Supporting Actor is probable, and Best Supporting Actress is likely.

  2. And Best Original Screenplay, of course.

  3. Bryce Forestieri

    I think Lubezki must rethink his craft (and life?) before everyone starts getting sick of these most-sustained-example-of-visually-fluid tour-de-force-cinema-anyones-ever-seen gimmicks, and he ends up backlashed and unemployed.

  4. @Bryce don’t forget that he is also the cinematographer responsible for tree of life. And he is shooting both of malick’s upcoming films. So if long shots don’t work out I am sure picture perfect compositions will always stay..Long shots are not the only thing he is good at. Respect for the guy

  5. Jesus Alonso

    So many clearly underrated actors are this year on the race, with chances… Keaton, Carrell, Spall, Molina… it would be nice if the 4 were nom’d, and if one of them wins.

  6. Is Norton’s character autobiographical?

  7. JPNS Viewer

    For the time being, thanks in part to the international trailer embedded on AD weeks ago, I’m already under impression that this film will turn out to be something relatively solid and entertaining regardless of its awards season chance (at this point).

    And it seems my mainstream expectations [relatively low but not necessarily condescending: . . . B- or higher, equipped with certain je-ne-sais-quoi elements for which I’ve been hoping] are likely to be met.
    Some key words taken from the original excerpts also help interest me but more: [and I quote]
    ‘“The film’s exhilarating originality, black comedy and tone that is at once empathetic and acidic will surely strike a strong chord with audiences looking for something fresh that will take them somewhere they haven’t been before.”’ & ‘“. . . one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen . . . ,”’ [quote ends]
    I didn’t expect to see something utterly mind-boggling [in a sense of being unprecedented]; so, if on veneer his remark is firm and in #truth (to my [or anybody else’s, for that matter] — naturally — #subjective perception) at the end of the day, then I consider this to be part of the bonus.

    I’ve said it before but I’m going to sound like a broken record again. It’s good to see Ed Norton (#really) back in this scale of work. I’m hoping his “fiendish manipulator (and jerk)” role pays well, if not in terms of Oscar next year, then at least in regard to what is being hoped to become a solid mainstream diversion on his part in addition to the piece itself.

    “Straight-from-rehab” Sam, that is, Emma’s character’s short snippet as already seen in the clip, also looked quite promising.

    Can’t wait!

  8. UBourgeois

    “most sustained example of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen”

    Obligatory counterexample of Russian Ark, at least in the “most sustained” sense. Excited for this, though! Every new bit of information makes me more curious.

  9. Iñárritu haters will have a miserable year.

  10. UBourgeois,

    Unlike Russian Ark, though, this has some weight to it. Russian Ark was good and all, but as a student of Russian culture and history I thought it only scratched the surface.

  11. Bryce Forestieri

    but as a student of Russian culture and history I thought it only scratched the surface.

    But that’s all it was supposed to do, wasn’t it? Given the scope and the running time? I mean, I don’t want to be hearing that guy for 82 hours. Maybe it should have been focused a bit more? It’s a film about insinuations, glances and mysteries as much as it is about exposition.

    Radon,

    Yeah I’m with you 100%. The man does everything and everything he does is brilliant. Even comedy. But remember last year. All the “it’s not ‘real’ cinematography” “arguments”. Does BIRDMAN use Vfx? I think I see some in the trailer so expect more of that.

    Also the October 17 release date worries me. Plenty of time for more “script-driven” films to come out and allow people (critics, bloggers, “cinephiles”, intellectuals, pundits) to assertively get over that BIRDMAN rubbish.

    And now, we wait for the first “Please Forgive Me For Not Liking BIRDMAN” non-review attention grab.

  12. I know it is early, but we might have a Mexican director winning best director 2nd year in a row. This Oscar race is heating up…

  13. Yeh anno Bryce, there’s just no room in Hollywood for people of such limited talents. He ought to return that Oscar imo.

    The reviews aren’t all this positive, guys. But it’s good to hear that the hype may just be well-earned.

  14. Lol Lars and ofc Sasha and Ryan will be enormous racists for championing Ava DuVernay because they’re RACISTS!!

  15. Is this the year for underrated actors? Waskiowska, Stewart, Carrel, Tatum and Keaton, pretty interesting

  16. This is dumb but…is it really called “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”?

    Cuz I simply refuse to type that out every time.

  17. Al Robinson

    Jeremy, I go by what IMDb lists. IMDb lists is simply as Birdman.

  18. Chris Price

    I’ve been talking about this one for months since the test screening I saw. I don’t remember exactly when the first comment I made happened, but I know that I most likely said something I still stand by, which is that this film will be talked about in film schools for a long time to come. Technically and aesthetically, the film is insanely impressive. All the actors bring their A game (especially Norton), and there are many standout scenes. That said, I felt the film had a perfect endpoint, but missed the opportunity and kept going for another 20-25 minutes. I also genuinely didn’t like the ending they settled on, since it seems to remove some of the ambiguity surrounding the magical realism portions of the film. To me, the ambiguity was what made that stuff work. Also, my friend that also attended the screening HATED the movie. He said “this is the kind of folly only a master can produce.” His main problem with the film was the fact that he found the whole enterprise to be mean spirited and unoriginal. To him, a film that says “actors are insufferable” has been made over and over again, and the film brought nothing new to the table besides a particularly nasty strain of contempt. He too applauded the film on a technical level, but he found the themes to be an insurmountable problem. Several reviews have noted the bitterness and even have called the film shallow, but they are quick to point out that it is a shallow, self-obsessed film about shallow, self-obsessed people. The immediate reaction is one of shock and awe because Inarritu and Lubeszki have truly outdone themselves, but I’ll be curious to see what people think about the film 5-10 years from now.

  19. Bryce Forestieri

    And now we’re having laymen’s poorly redacted reactions to One Direction’s fourth album making the rounds on the net. The “bonkers” bomb is being thrown a lot #PTA

  20. Watermelons

    This movie could win Academy Awards (Oscars)

    -Watermelons

  21. Bob Burns

    BM

    McCarthy has been a bellweather critic for years.

    good feeling to have a hefty contender.

  22. Bryce Forestieri

    “Yo, Rosewater ain’t all that” –critics

    “Yo, nyc elites, turn up for Starred Up! Resta ya’ll conform with VOD” –me

  23. Joao Mattos

    “most sustained example of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen”

    Hummmmm, do people know about the work of such masters of tracking shot as the late (died this year) hungarian máster Miklos Jancsó?

  24. Bryce Forestieri

    “do people know about the work of such masters of tracking shot as the late (died this year) hungarian máster Miklos Jancsó?”

    No

  25. I’ve been excited for this ever since I saw Keaton in Much Ado About Nothing… I knew he had a big role inside of him, just waiting for him to get loose, without being surrounded with Burton’s near-distracting Burton-ness.

  26. Trust in Joao, people. Miklos Jancso ftw.

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