Birdman aka The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a film written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu whose previous work includes 21 Grams, Biutiful, and Babel. This unique look into the sometimes deranged minds of the acting community stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough.
Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is an actor who has seen the highs and lows of his profession with major box office success followed by a downward cycle brought on by his unwillingness to continue playing the super hero character named Birdman. Looking to revive his career, he has chosen to direct and star in a Broadway play and is basically putting his entire career on the line for this one last shot at validation. Surrounded by friends and family who all have their own issues and demons to deal with, Riggan finds himself torn between reality and the unrelenting voice in his head that sounds eerily like his former alter ego...the Birdman.
Let me just start by saying that this is a brilliant film. It is so well crafted and the performances are so jarringly powerful that your brain won't be able to stop thinking about it for quite some time. Prior to having watched the movie, I had heard the acting was top notch across the board and I have to agree one hundred percent. This will be Keaton's defining role. What he puts into this performance is the stuff that little gold statues are made of. As for the rest of the cast, there isn't anyone who is less than spectacular. Even Zach Galifianakis gives us something that finally breaks the "that guy from The Hangover" mold he's been trapped in for far too long.
While Emma Stone's role in the film as Thomson's daughter Sam is meant to support the headliners, it is anything but minor and she absolutely scorches every frame of film she is able to inhabit. Watching her in this movie makes me even more angry about her having had anything to do with the current iteration of the Spider Man franchise. You will also find Edward Norton and Naomi Watts at the top of their game in this film, each playing characters who inhabit so many layers of flawed humanity and you really get the sense of how working in the entertainment industry has affected their hearts and souls. I suppose that last thought could actually apply to both the actors and the characters each of them plays which I'm sure is an intentional bit of irony that helps to make this movie what it is.
If you know anything about me and some of the things I like about watching movies, you should know that I am absolutely in love with extended take scenes or those moments of continuous camera work where the director refuses to say cut. For some examples of this, you can check out my reviews of Gravity, and Silent House. Iñárritu's continuous use of this technique throughout the movie makes it feel more like you are watching a live play which is made even more cool considering the subject matter is about actors putting on a live play. The extended takes also do a great job of drawing you into the emotion of the actor's performances and is made evident right off the bat by a rehearsal exchange between Keaton and Norton that is so visceral, I actually got goosebumps watching it play out.
Birdman is being talked about as a dissection of blockbuster, superhero movies although I didn't really see that at all. If anything it helps to justify them by pulling at the strings of art house theater and the performance art community. There is an influential critic in the movie, played by Lindsay Duncan, who is on a mission to destroy Thomson's play before it even opens for the simple fact that he was at one time a Hollywood actor who she feels doesn't belong in her prestigious world. Iñárritu does a great job of, at times literally, pulling back the curtain of this world and showing us what these people subject themselves to on a daily basis so that we, as audience members, can be entertained. If I had one critique of the movie is that I felt the ending fell flat and it seemed like the writers didn't quite know what to after the big, climactic moment that the whole thing leads up to. I almost feel like it should have ended right at that moment rather than trying to show us the aftermath. Once you see the movie, you will understand what I mean.
I suppose Birdman could be called an anti-movie as it works in so many ways that are counter intuitive to what we have grown to expect from the cinema experience yet it also seems to do just about everything right. Ultimately, this is an actors showcase and I feel like at least Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone should receive nominations for the amazing effort they put in to the film. If you enjoy movies that are really good, I would recommend you go see this one as soon as possible. Seriously...stop reading now and go watch the movie.