Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Movie Review by Michael Clawson

BirdmanBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)  

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu

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


119 Minutes

Rated R


By Monte Yazzie


Alejandro González Iñárritu’s body of work can easily be described as serious and downtrodden but also in moments exceptional and striking. From his first impressive feature “Amores Perros” into further serious and grim pieces “21 Grams” and “Babel”, Iñárritu is always commenting on something. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, the most pleasurable of his catalog, discusses the meanings of art, the trappings of celebrity, and the power of performance through stunningly composed techniques, lovingly and confidently guided by Iñárritu.

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) portrayed an iconic superhero known as Birdman; he was successful and beloved by fans. However, Riggan turned down the opportunity to continue the franchise, which grew to greater success, and he is now a washed up actor in desperate need for success and continued relevance. Riggan is the writer, director, and star of a play, a Raymond Carver story called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, that is nearing it’s opening night. Things are falling apart, Riggan is in debt, ridiculed by his recently rehabbed daughter (Emma Stone), and overshadowed by a Broadway star (Edward Norton) who takes an open role in the play. But most obvious, Riggan is tormented by self-doubt and the weight of his stress. Will this show save his career or permanently bury his celebrity.

"Birdman" is a movie where everything flows together seamlessly. The cinematography makes the film feel like one continuous shot without being distracting or frustrating to follow. The long takes are meticulously paced out and rehearsed, some lasting near ten minutes in length. They are technically impressive and completely immersing, bringing the viewer into the labyrinth of the back stage theater and in the most pertinent aspect making the viewer companion to Riggan’s slowly unraveling mentality. The motion of the camera is mesmerizing, moving into and out of the different perspectives. Emmanuel Lubezki is the director of photography and his skill behind the camera makes “Birdman” beautiful from frame to frame. The story accommodates the characters and the locations offer an authenticity for everything to exist harmoniously together. Watching the actors stroll around in the mazelike halls of the St. James Theater brings the story of the desperate and frantic characters to glorious realization.

This is simply put Michael Keaton’s best performance. From the first moment of screen time his performance only continues to soar. Riggan is haunted by his past, present, and future. He is a man looking to change an identity of regret but also desperately trying to remain relevant. There is an interesting portrayal of this theme that Iñárritu utilizes to display Riggan’s growing detachment. In his dressing room is a picture of his Birdman persona hanging on the wall; it talks to him squarely pointing out failures with forceful criticism. On the opposite wall is his vanity, brightly and beamingly exaggerating every day of growing age and compounded regret. Emma Stone is sublime as Riggan’s daughter Sam. She has a monologue that shifts from pity, to anger, to self-loathing, finally ending with sorrow. In one short scene she defines her entire character. Edward Norton is always interesting; here he is perfectly cast as the egotistical Broadway prodigy whose arrogant method approaches and consummate dedication to the art of the theater overshadow Riggan’s worth as director, writer and lead actor.

“Birdman” is a brilliant film filled with intricacy and idiosyncrasy. The cast is fantastic, especially Michael Keaton in a career performance. Even in the small moments when the narrative becomes knowingly pretentious and the techniques border on overuse, it never stops being fascinating to watch, a testament to the skilled guidance by director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Monte's Rating 4.75 out of 5.00