Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Stars: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis,
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence, Running time 119 minutes, Comedy/Drama
Compare to: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
It’s great to watch a film where you can really tell the actors involved treated this like it was going to represent everything they’ve ever done. Or as though it’s the last movie they’re ever going to do.
While comparisons between leading man Keaton and his onscreen counterpart, Riggan Thomson, are inevitable, one can only hope the comparisons begin and end at the two playing a superhero before superheroes were popular. Because Riggan is a few tools short in his shed. But it seems that’s exactly what Keaton needed to burst from his interesting supporting roles and back into the spotlight.
Riggan Thomson is a man on edge. Having chosen to adapt, direct, and star in a broadway play based on a book by the man who inspired him to act, Riggan may have bitten off more than he can chew. Out of control co-stars, critics ready to eat him alive, and a neglected family all loom overhead. All of which are magnified by the voice in Riggan’s own head- the one that sounds suspiciously like the superhero he’s best known for playing from years before.
It’s not a coincidence that Keaton would connect with a character that’s this far out there. Never wanting to copy what he’s already done, he outdoes himself by playing a man on the edge. And though this may redefine the way the audiences see him, he’ll still always have Batman in the background. Am I talking about Riggan or Keaton? I’m writing this and I can’t tell.
But as Keaton has mentioned, he has very little in common with his character and that’s a good thing for Keaton but also a testament to his abilities as well. The manic depressive, anxiety filled front man for the play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is in over his head and through the lens of a camera that appears to only show a single take, we get to see every step forward and backward of the final days before the production is open to the public.
The one-shot appearance is something to behold as well, with every bit of the movie seeming to take place in a single take. A trained eye that knows what to look for, but that’s not a discredit to the execution in the first place. It’s almost as though we’re on a caffeine binge and blinking isn’t an option, giving us the feel that’s almost as manic as the characters we’re watching.
Everyone here is at their best, with Norton’s pompous show horse of an actor, Mike Shiner, at his most slimy. Norton’s character seems to sum up so much of what we gather from Hollywood and the likes’ community; the talent seems to outweigh the stress garnered from dealing with such a narcissist- or does it? Mike Shiner has his own demons to battle but they come in the form of antagonizing everyone he comes into contact with.
It’s always interesting when a film doesn’t quite break the fourth wall, but gets to make (in)direct commentary on the critic community as well. Valid points are made to illustrate that even as troubled as these people are, people they are still. And no characters makes this point more impactful than Keaton’s own. There’s no wonder why this is limited release, but to ignore the quality of film this is would be to just outright deny a piece of entertainment that doesn’t come along often. It can’t come along often and that’s what makes it so great.
Positives: Acting, effects, and dialogue are all as good as it gets.
Negatives: The run time could have been cut, the “weirdness” will be a turn off to those who don’t know what they’re getting into, may seem preachy in moments.