Birdman, a modern day masterpiece

This movie is an intoxicating ride; 10 years from now, people will view it as a classic masterpiece of this decade.

Khalid Rafi February 23, 2015
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 The author enjoys writing and is passionate about Pakistan Cricket. He tweets @TheKhalidRafi (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


notary | 7 years ago | Reply 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.
The Guest Star | 7 years ago 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 everyone
twentysomething | 7 years ago | Reply Emma Stone in this movie :DDDDDD
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