Alejandro González Iñárritu is a Mexican film director, producer, writer, and composer. He is the first Mexican director to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards and at the Directors Guild of America Awards, as well as the first Mexican-born director to have won the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival. He is known for the movies Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. He has received many nominations and received Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for Birdman in 2015. His first three films, Amores perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, are part of what has become known as the “Death Trilogy”, though I find that to be a misleading title. Biutiful also dealt with the subject of death, and I’m sure it won’t be the last of his films to do so. I find that these three films are a trilogy in a different way. All three films show different story lines and different characters throughout. The story lines are shown out of order in non linear and non chronological ways. And all the story lines end up being connected in the end despite being so different and so distinct. These films are similar to films such as Pulp Fiction or Crash (2004). The fact that death is what often connects these stories is less important (in my opinion) than the fact that Alejandro’s style can show how people are united, how struggles and drama are universal, and how it is up to the character to find their own peace and happiness. These ideas or beliefs can be seen in all of his films, not just in the “Death Trilogy”. His films are mostly dramas, with very brief moments of action or comedy. They are heartfelt stories that are very realistic, but some of them end up having a moments of surrealism to them somehow. This is either done through subtle images, dream like qualities, or the intense focus from main characters as they deal with their internal battles. I was not a fan of his films when I first saw them, but that changed with Biutiful. I went back and watched his other films, and found new appreciation for all of them. He is already making a new film called The Revenant. It is based on a novel of the same name, it will star Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Will Poulter, and it will be released December 25th, 2015.
Amores perros (2000)
21 Grams (2003): 8.75/10
– The second installment in the so-called “Trilogy of Death”. After the success of his first movie, Alejandro was able to hire big name actors and actresses for the film. The ensemble cast includes Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Benicio Del Toro, Danny Huston, Eddie Marsan, Melissa Leo, Denis O’ Hare, and Lew Temple. Like his previous film, it interweaves several plot lines together in a non-linear fashion. The plot lines include Jack Jordan (played by Benicio Del Toro) who is a former convict and is using his new-found religious faith to recover from his drug and alcohol addictions, Paul Rivers (played by Sean Penn) who is a math professor with a serious heart condition and a dedicated wife (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Cristina Peck (played by Naomi Watts) who is a recovering drug addict with a two children and a supporting husband (played by Danny Huston). These three separate stories become tied together one night through a car accident. The movie starts at a slow pace as we try and piece together the three different stories and why they are relevant. But the events of the car crash bring everything into focus, as each of the characters is now left with a situation they must overcome. Some actually benefit from the events, while some are completely devastated and their lives are turned around. This is where the movie really picks up because the acting from Penn, Watts, and Del Toro are all incredible in their own way. Like all of Alejandro’s films, the movie wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for the acting of the main character(s), but his films have always benefited from the people who land the roles (whether they were the intended actors and actresses or whether it fell into place that way). The movie moves at a slow pace over the course of its 2 hours, but it is never boring. There are always questions that will be answered and there is always suspense as we focus on what these characters are going to decide. Will they move on with their lives, or will they decide to stop trying? The movie ends with excellent questions for the audience to reflect on, as we are told of the significance of 21 grams and put together why it is the name of the movie.
Biutiful (2010): 9/10
– I was very excited for the release of this film because Javier Bardem had impressed me so much as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. I looked forward to seeing him in a different light and seeing what kind of diversity he was capable of. He did not disappoint. This movie completely relied on his performance, and he nailed it. In this movie, he plays Uxbal, the father of two young children in a shabby apartment in Barcelona. He raises his kids on his own because their mother suffers from alcoholism and bipolar disorder. His only other family is his brother Tito. He makes a living helping illegal immigrants find work and managing a group of Chinese women who produce forged designer goods. He also has the ability to talk to the dead and sometimes is paid to pass on messages, though this is not the focus of the movie so the moments it does happen give the film a very surreal element. The rest of the movie is very slow paced and very emotional. The big turning point is when Uxbal finds out that he has a terminal prostate cancer that will only give him a few months to live. From there, he has to figure out how to deal with the emotional stress and how to provide a solid foundation for the people that he is going to leave behind. The biggest focus is of course his two children, and providing a loving and caring home for them (in addition to the struggle of having to tell them that he will not be around any longer). Bardem is amazing in this role. I cannot stress that enough. I can’t imagine another actor that you could follow around this journey for its 147 minute duration, and still be as engaged in as you are. Many people were not up to the challenge and couldn’t get into the slow pace and the overload of drama. But for me, this was one of my favorite films of 2010 (a great year for film) and one of my favorite performances by an actor ever.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014): 9.0/10
– Birdman was a bit of a surprise for me. I didn’t know Alejandro had released a new film until everyone was talking about it as a contender for the Oscars. I knew that I had to get around to seeing it. I finally did, without knowing anything about the plot, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was a much different film than I was used to from him. It still had his trademark focus on human emotion and internal struggles of the main character, but it was done so in a much more light hearted way. The film follows Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), who is a former Hollywood superstar famous for his role as an action superhero known as Birdman. Recently, he has faded from the spotlight, and now struggles to start over as the director of a Broadway play based on short story by Raymond Carver. The movie is filled with an excellent cast that consists of Edward Norton as an acclaimed Broadway actor, Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter, Noami Watts as an actress, Zack Galifanakis (in an excellent serious role as opposed to the comedies he got famous for) as Riggan’s lawyer and friend, Andrea Riseborough as Riggan’s girlfriend, and Amy Ryan as Riggan’s ex-wife. The film follows Riggan’s struggle as he tries to reinvent himself as more than just a one trick pony. He tries to prove to himself and others that he is a serious artist who matters. He has a lot riding on this play, and we are able to feel that through Keaton’s stellar performance. The main focus is on him. The others are a supporting cast showing how the world can be from Riggan’s viewpoint (with his friends and family having to constantly remind him that they have their own struggles as well). The movie is made to look like it is filmed in one shot, giving it a very fluid feeling. The unnoticed time changes as well as the internal monologues of Riggan (who’s feelings are presented in the voice and image of Birdman) give it a surrealistic feeling. The movie does a great job of blending the surrealism with comedy, drama, and even moments of action, making it one of the most unique and diverse films in Alejandro’s collection of work. It is probably the easiest of his films to watch multiple viewings of. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it raises a lot of important questions about the difference of artist and performers as well as the difficulties in being an artist.