Monday, 19 January 2015

Best Supporting Actor 2014: Edward Norton in Birdman

Edward Norton received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Mike Shiner in Birdman.

Edward Norton plays the stage actor who is the last minute replacement for an injured actor in the play directed by and starring former movie super hero actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Where parallels can be made between the fictional life of Riggan along with Michael Keaton the same can be made for Edward Norton with his counterpart Mike Shiner. Like Keaton, this is obviously not suppose to be exact truth or necessarily even close to it, especially since Norton actually is primarily a film actor. Where there does seem to be a connection is that both are lauded performers but considered difficult to work with. Mike first appearance is a perfectly fitting for that of the "great" actor right down to his choice of hat, scarf and coat. Norton then proceeds to carry himself as the master of the stage as Mike and Riggan go through part of the play. Norton is terrific exuding confidence about everything he does from his fairly pompous walk to just the way he looks upon Riggan with seemingly a combination of interest and perhaps a low-key disdain. Norton is brilliantly insufferable right from the start.

Although from the start Norton suggests what likely will be part of the problem with Mike right from the start, but does not forget to show what Mike will bring to the play. Norton does a particularly fantastic job of showing the way Mike goes in and out of the play with his performance. Not simply in the way he's projecting his voice as he should, although he does that well, but also how in the moment of the play Norton only portrays honest emotions as Mike is in character, and Norton does a great job of being in character in character. Even past that though Norton is terrific in portraying the way Mike is in his zone of control when talking about the play with Riggan going even so far as to constantly make suggestions for a bit of rewriting. Norton is impeccable in realizing the method of Mike as he brings such an energy and even joy as he knocking back and forth ideas with Riggan, and we see Mike exactly where he belongs. Norton is wonderfully in the moment and it's a great scene as Norton basically allows Mike to live up to his reputation.

Norton treads a very fine line in his portrayal of Mike off stage because if he went too far with the egotistical actor routine he could become caricature. Norton though is right on the mark with his performance though being enjoyably smug in his whole manner as it is clear that Mike thinks Mike is God's gift to acting, and that's all there is to it. Norton is especially good in the way he kinda amplifies the ego whenever Mike goes off on an idea and seems to get one over on Riggan. Norton is entertaining as he basically builds up the level of self-indulgence of Mike in given scene before there is eventually something to take him down a notch. One such moment is when Mike is going on off basically his artistic superiority to Riggan before being completely unrecognized as Riggan is asked by a fan for a picture. Norton's very good in his subtle reaction of Mike kinda metaphorically biting his tongue down when he's hit with a bit of reality, as Mike is the sort of man who would not even allow himself to be seen as though he cares, even though he does.

What Norton does so well though is make sense of the madness of his character as he seems somewhat random in the way he flies off the handle sometimes, only to be rather reasonable all of the sudden. Norton makes this volatility work though as an essential part of who Mike is. He makes sense of the sudden bursts of intolerably along with genius all seem to fit into a single whole without at all seeming absurd. Norton's performance interestingly enough, considering his other two male co-stars are comedians, is probably the most comedic performance in the film which is funny all by itself by Norton's often dramatic work like in his previous two Oscar nominations. Norton though succeeds in finding plenty of humor out his character with every one of his odd ball scenes, especially one where he comes with having sex onstage with his co-star/soon to be former girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts). Norton is outstanding because he is hilarious in portraying the madness, yet he always remains oddly believable all the same.

Norton does have his technically most dramatic scenes with Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone) as they play game of truth or dare on top of the theater. Norton's very good here as well though as he eases back somewhat on the pretension of Mike, although he still leaves a bit there as he attempts to mentor Sam, but in these scenes gives us a Mike who's willing to let things go. Although the two scenes eventually end on a romantic I don't feel Norton and Stone have romantic chemistry. This is not a criticism, but rather the two show more of an comfort in the understanding the two are able to develop. There is a sweetness in their connection as Norton shows it not that Mike has found love, but rather a person he does not need to perform for. It is almost as though since Sam has such low self-esteem, there is no ego there to trump therefore Norton's performance suggests that Mike can kinda relax for once in his life. My only sorta reservation, I don't really have a problem with it as it works for the film, I want to make that clear, is that he is a non-entity in the third act(where the view focuses solely on Riggan) and it did not seem like Mike Shiner was quite finished. Norton nevertheless does some very memorable work here and I feel as though, just like almost every character in Birdman, there could be a whole film just about Mike Shiner.


GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I'm soo looking forward to Norton's Motherless Brooklyn. As a fan of the book, the character of Lionel just spells Oscar potential.

luke higham said...

I agree with you, as my only reservation is the exact same with Norton pushed completely into the background for the last third. Norton is an incredibly strong 4.5 for me and would be my fifth choice after Poulter, Simmons, Fassbender and Brolin.

luke higham said...

Louis: Have you seen anything new in the past couple of days.

Psifonian said...

The only thing that keeps him from being over Simmons for me is the lack of a final focal scene. Admittedly, the film doesn't lack for it, but it does feel like Norton's character had more to say but didn't, especially if we'd seen him react to what Riggan does at the end of the third act. I could see Mike trying to "top" that in future performances, to ill result.

In any case, by far my favorite Norton performance (well, maybe tied with "Kingdom of Heaven"; I prefer subdued Norton over his intensity).

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Yes he is fantastic in Kingdom of Heaven. My top 5 performances of his are probably:

1. Primal Fear - 5
2. 25th Hour - 5
3. Birdman - 5
4. American History X - 5
5. The Painted Veil - 4.5

Louis Morgan said...


Wild - (I did not hate it but it's just a film that I never became emotionally invested in. I don't even have exact reasons why that is it just never took me the way a film like this needs to, to be able to really work.)

Witherspoon - 3.5(Nevertheless I found Witherspoon's performance to be solid enough. Again I never became caught up with her character, but I still felt her performance was believable. I thought she did a decent enough job of portraying the physical degradation along with the mental inspiration even if I was not floored by it. I liked her here though and I did not see any of the awkwardness I sometimes find in her performances)

Dern - 3.5(Well I thought she was more authentic in her motherly love than the other Oscar nominated mother even though her work is perhaps one of the most disjointed, in terms of editing, out of any performance ever nominated for an Oscar. She barely even has a single scene that faded over in some way, but I thought Dern still did about everything she could with what she had)

Gone Girl - re-watch - (I did not love it when I first saw it and I have to say the comedy, and the murder scene were the only things that stood out for me this time around)

Affleck - 4(On that note I have to say Affleck's best moments where his comedic Affleckian scenes that showed the kinda goofiness of his character. I did think he was good in portraying both the charm yet despicable nature of his character. My only major complaint, which is probably Fincher's fault, is that even on the first viewing I knew he was definitely not a murderer due to his honest confusion at seeing the shattered table)

Perry - 4(On re-watch I thought he was easily MVP since his character is almost wholly comic. He delivers in still being convincing as a slick lawyer, but more importantly Perry has great comic timing here and nails every juicy line he has)

Anonymous said...

Is Pike still a 4.5, louis?

Louis Morgan said...


Anonymous said...

What rating would you give her -- and if not a 4.5, why?

Louis Morgan said...

I'd say a 4. I like her when she's being pure evil but she does give away the game far too early. It's clear that she's going to be evil from the start, and there is not even a hint why someone would ever think she was Amazing. It's true she's not suppose to live up to the title, but it seems like those who don't know her that well think she does. Also it becomes problematic why Nick would bother with her other than she is attractive since she's cold from the start.

houndtang said...

Id give Norton a 5, but I agree with you that there was more to explore in Mike Shiner. Whikstvi enjoyed the film, part of me wished he was the central character.