Movie Review: Birdman (Or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
by Carly Booth | published Dec. 1st, 2014
Sometimes, you get so moved by something that it makes you cry—not because it's sad, but because its mere existence is beautiful to you. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that this was my reaction to Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest film, "Birdman (Or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)." This extraordinary black comedy is a powerful, almost poetic movie-going experience with an excellent ensemble cast, a sharp script and gorgeous production values.
"Birdman" follows washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) as he directs and stars in his own Broadway play. In an art-imitating-life scenario, Thomson rose to fame by playing comic book hero Birdman, much like Keaton himself, who played Batman in Tim Burton's "Batman" movies. Riggan wants to prove that he is more than just a crime fighter in a super suit, and he struggles with shattering the public's perception of him.
Riggan is occasionally tormented by his alter ego, which taunts him and his attempt to come back from obscurity because no one cares.:
“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit!”
Meanwhile, he navigates the many volatile relationships in his life: his attorney and only real friend Brandon (Zach Galifianakis), egotistical actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), insecure leading lady Lesley Fryman (Naomi Watts) and personal assistant and daughter Sam (Emma Stone).
This is a rare movie in which every actor is marvelous, and they bring out the best in each other. Michael Keaton is as great as he’s ever been, if not better. Like many of my peers, I remember him as Beetlejuice and Batman, so to see him take on the role of a tortured has-been was mind-boggling and wonderful.
The supporting cast complements Keaton well. Norton and Watts are their usual fantastic selves, but the true revelations are Galifianakis and Stone. Galifianakis strays dramatically from his goofy “one-man wolf pack” persona in "The Hangover" and shows off acting chops I never knew he had, and Stone wows as a cynical ex-druggie who is struggling to make amends with her father. Her performance is emotional and proves that she is a force to be reckoned with.
What separates "Birdman" from the 2014 Oscar pack is the cinematography and editing. It is expertly edited to appear as one take, and the cameras follow these characters around in a giant tracking shot. These nuts and bolts transform the viewer from mere observer to participant, making the film one of those magical movies that makes you feel alive.
Birdman is likely to become one of those movies that, years from now, film historians will analyze, film studies professors will make part of their lesson plans and we will talk about the same way we talk about legendary masterpieces like "The Godfather" and "Star Wars." This isn’t just one of those flavor-of-the-month political statement movies that gets nominated for a few Oscars due to heavy campaigning and are ultimately forgotten. I predict we will remember the game-changing "Birdman" for a very long time.