We devised the “Drafthouse Recommends” banner to highlight exciting, innovative and downright amazing films and share them with all of you. When I first watched the Birdman trailer, goosebumps ran down my spine, and I felt sure we would be chasing it for this series. From the trailer alone you can clearly sense the scale, the craft and the rhythm of a truly original film. A great trailer, and this most certainly is, can completely captivate you without divulging too much about the actual narrative. Even after watching the film, I’m still not quite sure whether I witnessed a magical realism fable or was viewing fantasies through the eyes of a central character who is losing his mind.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s Birdman at this year’s Telluride Film Festival where it received nearly unanimous praise. Birdman will almost surely be nominated for best picture this year, but it is even more of a lock for a myriad of technical nominations. A handful of staggeringly long takes are cleverly stitched together to appear as if almost the entire film is one long take. Legendary cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki developed this technique while shooting Children of Men but elevates it to new levels in Birdman. Lubezki also shot the dizzyingly kinetic Gravity and employs many of those same techniques too. Instead of swerving through the vastness of space, however, we careen through the narrow hallways and dressing rooms of New York’s St. James Theater.
Michael Keaton, in a role that quite likely was written specifically for him, plays a washed-up superhero franchise celebrity who is desperately attempting to rekindle his career and garner respect from the industry by writing, directing and starring in a vanity Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Keaton’s performance is stunning throughout. Bobbing and weaving between Hollywood satire, old-fashioned screwball comedy and Russian absurdism, Keaton still manages to flesh out a wonderfully rich character in the vice of mounting stress and deep insecurities. Layered on top of all that, in the nooks, crannies and fleeting periphery of the frame, Iñarritu gives us deconstructed glimpses into the craft of mounting a Hollywood film.
There’s SO MUCH going on, so many interwoven stories, visual gags and blistering dialogue that when the credits rolled I felt utterly drained; happy but drained. One sign of a great film is leaving the theater wanting to immediately watch it again. I was trying to keep a mental grasp on the dizzying technical marvel that was careening in front of me that I don’t feel I gave the underlying narrative themes enough time to fully gestate. I’ll focus there for my second and possibly third viewing.
Birdman is one of the most visually stunning and technically accomplished feats of filmmaking I’ve seen in a long, long while. Funny, complex, riveting and utterly unique, Birdman fits squarely in the “Drafthouse Recommends” cannon and we are honored to share it with you.