Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

November 2, 2014 at 10:21 am | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

The most exciting thing to me (in a fairly exciting movie) was the fact that the entire action from the very beginning until almost the last scene was done in one long shot; there were no break-aways, no fade outs, no cuts. That’s an amazing feat in a full length film. I only know of one other film, Hitchcock’s “Rope,” that has done it. For those who see this film, I challenge you to watch closely for how transitions between scenes and times are managed; it’s really quite brilliant. Sometimes, as the camera swivels away from an actor 180º, the scene shifts hours or days into the future. It was just a joy to watch. Director and writer Alejandro González Iñárritu (“amores perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel”) is known for pushing the boundaries of traditional film making but this feels like his boldest effort yet. This film plays with our expectations on many levels again and again through out (giving us a soundtrack of pounding drums and then suddenly revealing a man on a drum set inexplicably sitting in the corner, creating fantastical moments and then giving them logical explanations and then taking those explanations away again). This quirky, almost whimsical tone, balances nicely against the darkness of the script and the bite of it’s humor. This story is a diatribe against the cult of celebrity and is razor sharp and stinging. Barbs connect in vicious ways against celebrities, real and imagined, of all sorts. This might seem petty if it weren’t for the fact that the most vicious of these are directed at the main character, Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton. Although, really, Michael Keaton is playing Riggan Thomson playing Michael Keaton. Where this story is at it’s absurdist best is in the fact that Keaton is essentially playing a through-the-looking-glass version of himself. An actor once famous for playing the superhero, “Birdman,” passed on continuing the franchise to pursue more serious roles that never really materialized. He is now running out of money, bitter toward the young actors today who are making so much more money playing superheroes, and trying to jump start his career on Broadway. That’s a lot of self-referential for most actors to handle and could come across as self-indulgent or, worse, disingenuous. Yet, Keaton is masterful at being vulnerable; the anger, the fear, the desperation are all so nakedly present on screen that, just as a character study, this film works wonderfully, all directorial tricks aside. It’s a strong cast overall, with Emma Stone and Edward Norton being particular standouts. This is a thoroughly brilliant movie from start to finish, so full of rich, textured subtleties in every scene: the lighting, the sounds, even some of the throwaway lines, the way the camera lingers or doesn’t in certain scenes, the bandages on Keaton that look like a Birdman mask and what ends up being underneath those bandages. Brilliant. But all of that aside, the film stands or falls on Keaton’s acting. And Birdman soars.

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