BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Release Date: Oct 17th, 2014
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Studio: Regency Enterprises, Worldview Entertainment
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Productions
Genre(s): Black Comedy
Review Spoilers: Low
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Much like all of you when that first headline broke, “Michael Keaton to shoot Birdman…” I was too stoked to see Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law on the big screen. Of course it was made immediately clear that we were looking at a two different properties. A momentary disappointment until that first excellent trailer dropped. Well, a few weeks back I got the chance to catch a screening of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and I gotta say, this movie is a complete delight.
Briefly, the film follows actor Riggan Thomson, a down and out Hollywood actor famous for portraying superhero Birdman, and his attempts to reignite his career via Broadway. The film follows the character as he works on the last days of rehearsal and previews of his play adaption of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” all while juggling his family issues, professional problems, and a certain nagging voice in his head. This all acts as a very meta satire on entertainment culture, from production all the way through to the consumers of it. Again, a complete delight.
Now I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers, not because there are any dramatic twists or insane plot developments, I’d just rather you take my word on it being great and catch it for yourself. The jokes are great, the story is compelling, and the characters are wonderful. All of the acting in this movie is phenomenal, hitting it outta the park left and right.
Michael Keaton is great; his Riggan is at the center a good guy but under crushing pressures from all around. Zach Galifianakis plays his friend and producer Jake, and while he has jokes he is often the voice of reason to try and get this play successful, bending to Riggan’s whims or reversing them through clever subterfuge. Edward Norton plays a hotshot actor brought in to save the play and sell tickets, apparently one of the best in the biz, who is also entirely a nightmare to work with (something that has been said about Norton personally) but he does so in such a way that you hate/love/believe him. But for me, the biggest thing that really sold the film in my heart was the directing.
The camerawork is manipulated in such a manner that the entire movie seems to made of several long takes. I can think of only a handful of moments where there is clearly a cut. Other than that the camera stays in front or behind the actors as they pedal around set, having heated arguments about the play and how to put it on before moving on either back to their dressing room or into another conversation. This makes the movie kinetic the whole way through. It never seems to lull.
Along with the constant camera footwork, there is a jazzy drum going through what I remember as the entire film. Whether it is loud and clear or subtle beats, the scenes, specifically the transitions when characters are pounding down the halls to interact with one another. Again, this all builds that frantic, busy pulse that hooked me.
A final point, that won’t be a spoiler as it is revealed immediately in the film. There is some serious fantasy elements going on. It’s in the first scene following the title card, and may be in the trailer I can’t quite recall. Riggan Thomson seems to be meditating and floating in the opening shot. It is not addressed. That thread runs throughout the film. I dug it. And I won’t go into it anymore than that. Make of that what you will.
All things considered Birdman is an incredibly fun, funny, and thoughtful work from the guy who brought us the rather somber Babel and Biutiful. If you have any interest in it at all, if that trailer tickled you in the slightest way you owe it to yourself to get out to wherever it’s playing and watch. It is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of the year.