“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Review

The Drummer’s Drumming Drums

A Television Review by Akash Singh


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is amazing. There’s just one flaw in this film that keeps it from being perfect for me, but more on that later. Birdman follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who used to be a Hollywood star, courtesy of his role as the superhero called Birdman (in what is a hilarious sort of nod to his role as Batman). As some recent actors have done, Thomson leaves the role in order to pursue other artistic activities that mire him into the depths of almost becoming irrelevant. The project in which he finds himself for the duration of the film is a play based on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, involving his best friend Jake, his girlfriend Laura, his daughter Sam, and an actress known as Lesley. But this isn’t a straight-up drama about a man forgotten by the world succeeding again. It’s the darkest of dark comedies, a bizarre sort of wonderful moments throughout which Birdman’s dark voice mocks Thomson as a constant reminder of what used to be his and what Birdman says can never be his again.

Without a doubt this is director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s best film yet. His most recent work, Biutiful, largely rode on the backs of Javier Bardem’s incredible performance. While the film suffered immensely for its overbearing sense of depression that permeated throughout the entire frame, Iñárritu in Birdman remembers to actually have fun with his characters in a superbly dramatic way. Even though they’re largely highly miserable, they’re thoroughly entertaining to watch. Iñárritu even films the entire affair as a sort of madcap affair, with Birdman and the requisite superhero explosions rumbling behind Keaton as he’s simply committing the act of walking down a New York street. It’s a thoroughly engaging take on misery, as if you can feel Iñárritu just cracking up constantly behind the camera. Yet even with the entertaining bombasticity of the magical realism that threads throughout the film, it is ubiquitous with small, intimate moments that are executed to absolute perfection.

The acting in the film is brilliant all around. Michael Keaton is absolutely phenomenal and he steals the entire show, seemingly without any effort. The entire range of human emotion is expertly played across Keaton’s visage so well that it only takes about five minutes or less to completely buy him as a real, acute human being. Edward Norton is amazing in this, easily giving the best performance of his recent career. Emma Stone, who is often delegated to adorable, cute roles that she does fulfill amazingly well, gets some real dramatic chops as Keaton’s daughter who is a recovering drug addict. Meg Ryan is brilliant in basically every single piece that she’s given. If there’s a weak link in the movie, it’s Lindsay Duncan’s critic who is for some reason determined to crush Keaton’s new play. Duncan’s fine in the role, but the character is so thinly drawn it stands in absolute sharp contrast to basically everyone else.

The best thing perhaps about Birdman is that it isn’t interested in a simple narrative that just takes its characters and story along a single line to a specific destination. It’s far more interested in the journey these characters take, especially Keaton from superhero to nobody to someone who so desperately wants to be something not overshadowed by his past. It’s the little steps that these characters take with the voices of their own shadows following them but never overpowering them completely that are the true stars here. Master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who shot Children of Men and Gravity returns to film this bizzare, intimate, wacko journey. He films the masterpiece as if it’s one long take, at one moment coming to grips with the magic at itsbheart and ytaking a literal flight of fantasy. But Lubezki and Iñárritu are not alone on that journey with their characters. You’re in for the journey as well and when the film ends, you may find it difficult to come back to the ground. Or you might find it ostensibly pretentious. I, for one, found myself in the former category. 



Title: Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Produced by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole

Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo

Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Music: Antonio Sanchez

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione

Production Company: Regency Enterprises, Worldview Entertainment

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Running Time: 119 minutes

Release Dates: August 27, 2014 (Venice), October 17, 2014 (United States)

Image Courtesy: HD Wallpapers


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