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Birdman Soars

Now living in New York, CairoScene's film correspondent gets an early look at the much-anticipated Birdman - fresh off the festival circuit - and finds the strongest acting he's seen this year. Does Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ever disappoint?

Before moving to New York, the one thing I was most excited about was catching small films on limited release before they get released nationwide, and in most cases, worldwide. I always wanted to witness a good independent film snowball through word of mouth and grow legs, so to speak. You know, to see a film take its first steps towards success, and to see it all firsthand.

I caught Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) while it was playing in only three theatres across New York, but before its limited release, Birdman had already made the rounds at film festivals and it wasn’t growing legs; Birdman had already spread its wings. I can only assure you that those wings will keep flapping across the awards season all the way to Oscar night.      

Michael Keaton delivers the best performance of his career, in what is unquestionably, the biggest Hollywood comeback since Mickey Rourke stepped back into the ring of cinema as The Wrestler. Keaton displays a full array of complex emotions, delivering one performance within the other, and then reinventing the performance within the performance over and over again. This is the work of an actor in complete control of his craft. 

That said, his powerhouse performance is matched with an equally outstanding supporting cast. And while, many are calling Birdman Keaton’s comeback, the same case could be made about Edward Norton’s return to cinematic splendor. I’ve always respected Norton as an actor, but he hasn’t delivered any awards worthy performances since 25th Hour. Here, Norton soars right next to Keaton. Keaton was once the blockbuster superstar of Batman films, and it wasn’t long ago that many predicted Norton to be the next Robert De Niro. Both actors deliver brutally honest portrayals of characters sharing remarkably similar careers as the actors themselves.

Also deserving much praise is Emma Stone, who in one scene delivers a heartbreaking monologue that left the entire audience in complete utter silence. On a purely technical standpoint, Birdman is the most impressive film of the year. Most of the film was shot in a way to give viewers the illusion that it is all one continuous long take. The sweeping cinematography and smooth editing flow together in perfect harmony making it nearly impossible to spot where the filmmakers interrupted the seamless visuals. 

Like all great films, Birdman is about life itself. Inarritu satirically mocks professional criticism, blockbusters, art, and even social media, in a film that is just as much about the film industry itself, as it is about the pursuit of happiness, and our ridiculously desperate need to be admired, recognised and respected by people that shouldn’t really matter to us. It is, in many ways, a wakeup call to look around you, and realise the people you take for granted every day, the people who love you for who you are, regardless of success or failure. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one of the best films of the year. Make sure to catch it when it flies over your nearest picture house.

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