Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Movie Review
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) is a crazy, strange journey through a labyrinth of self-understanding using characters with an abundance of insecurities that doesn’t always add up in story… and I loved every last minute of the madness!
The stage is set figuratively and literally as a sort of meta experience following the production of a new Broadway play. Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up actor who once played the iconic superhero Birdman. Hoping to revitalize his career and ego as a respected actor, Riggan is directing and starring in his own play. With the help and sometimes hinderance of his producer (Zach Galifanakis), cast (Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Edward Norton), and daughter (Emma Stone), Riggan navigates his way through a wild journey of fear and courage as the play within the film is a living metaphor of the insanity of what is happening inside his own head.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (BABEL), who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, has created quite the movie-going experience that is firing on every possible cylinder. The cast is superb. Michael Keaton is beyond perfect, surely attaining an Oscar nomination along with many other awards for his all-in performance in a role of life-time. He provides a likability and warmth to an otherwise unlikable, needy character. He mixes the exact amount of looney and honesty to make a believable character that dabbles in the supernatural. It’s no secret that like his character Michael Keaton also once played an iconic superhero as Batman and chose not to continue the character for a third film (Birdman 4 is where Riggan calls it quits). It is by no means necessary to draw that connection between Keaton and his character, but it does add another level of relation outside of the play within the film within life. Edward Norton, another actor who played a superhero as the Incredible Hulk, is also quite exceptional as the respected but wildcard thespian to the stage who continues to cause problems for Riggan with his extreme method acting.
Pushing the characters through the maze of hallways and rooms is a constant jazzy beat from the score by a one man show in Antonio Sanchez. Mostly using a drumset, the sound lifts the picture in a tone that is quite possibly heard by the characters as well. Permeating throughout the building of the stage production, the music follows the pound of their steps and the rhythm of their speech. The mood and pace are pitch perfect as if set up in a room nearby, getting louder or quieter with respect to the characters distance and emotion.
In an absolute incredible appearance of a one shot take, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (GRAVITY, THE TREE OF LIFE) takes us through the halls and rafters of the building, following characters from one place to the next for the entire duration of the film without ever missing a beat or cutting away. The achievement is like nothing I’ve ever seen. When done right, the long take can be a beautiful extension of the story that always impresses dating back to Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE. What Lubezki does here, ups the game to a new level, proving once again that he is the best in the business.
All of these precise elements come together for something oddly alluring and darkly humorous. Ultimately, my explanation isn’t enough to capture the intricacies of what is happening inside BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE). A film that is definitely one to experience, it’s also one that probably won’t fit into many people’s wheel house… perhaps it’s more suited for the nut house, which I’m maniacally thrilled and excited to check myself into.