Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Blu-ray Review
I traditionally don’t like movies about the movie industry. Like most people, I find Hollywood to be self-absorbed, superficial and generally amoral. So when I sit down to watch a movie about the industry, I’m already a little biased. But Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN isn’t your typical industry reflection piece and even if it was, it’s done so brilliantly that it’s hard to take issue with the subject matter. But one of the things I find strange about BIRDMAN when compared to other Best Picture Oscar winners is that the film has very little heart. It’s a technical masterpiece, but at the end of the day, these are spoiled, superficial actors that don’t really connect to the audience. But it sure is fun to follow them for two hours.
Riggan (Michael Keaton) played the famous superhero Birdman about twenty years ago. But since starring in Birdman 3, the once famous actor hasn’t done much with his career. We catch up with him a few nights before he’s about to open a Broadway play that he adapted, directed and is starring in. But things aren’t going well for him. His main supporting actor just left and the replacement is a narcissistic, elitist Broadway veteran (Edward Norton), his supporting actress and his girlfriend just told him she’s pregnant and his drug addict daughter is constantly sulking around the set.
The aspect of BIRDMAN that everyone talks about is the fact it’s shot in one long take. Or more accurately, three long takes. There’s no doubt that it’s extremely impressive, but it’s more than just a gimmick. The long take serves to heighten the intensity and pressure that Riggan is feeling putting on the play and as the pressure mounts on the play, we get a true sense that Riggan is beginning to snap. It’s sometimes tough to build pressure on camera, but the long take strategy really worked in BIRDMAN. It’s a nice gimmick, but in this case, it’s actually an effective way of telling a story.
But the interesting story and the long take strategy would be completely meaningless without incredible performances from every single actor. Everyone was fantastic, but none more so than Michael Keaton. He carries the film and was easily the greatest performance of 2014 and probably would have won the Oscar if Inarritu had given him a disability. But Oscar’s fascination with actors playing characters with a disability is a sore subject. Aside from Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough all did fantastic with what they were given.
As great as BIRDMAN is, I didn’t connect with any of the characters. This is not an emotional, tug at your heartstrings film and at the end of the day, these are actors or spoiled kids with generally superficial problems. So when the big event happens at the end, it comes off a little anticlimactic because the audience didn’t really care one way or the other. There’s also a subplot where they throw some supernatural elements into the mix which are never really explained (they don’t really need to be), but depending on how you look at them, they could add or take away from the overall story. But despite this, BIRDMAN is a film that has to be seen. This is one of the most technically amazing films of the decade and one that has to be seen to be believed.
Video: BIRDMAN looks beautiful on Blu-ray. This is a film with mostly dark colors and takes place in predominantly dark corners of an old theater, so it was important that the black levels come out perfectly.
Audio: The audio was just as impressive.
BIRDMAN deserved more than three special features. We desperately needed a commentary, not only from the director but from the actors. I wanted to hear more about the long takes and how the actors prepared for that type of shoot.
Birdman: All Access (33:27): This is a decent behind the scenes featurette, but it’s worth the watch for the cool shots of Inarritu working with his crew.
A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (13:59): These guys have a lot of great comments about the film and clearly point out that it’s an experimental film, which should help some people that don’t quite “get” it.
Gallery and Theatrical Trailer