‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’ Review: It’s a Bird…man

Posted in The Screening Room by - October 29, 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) begins with a fairly simple premise. Our “hero”, Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton, is a former major movie star of the superhero franchise Birdman who is trying to emerge back into the public eye. He attempts to do so by embarking on a Broadway production of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, some very interesting techniques are utilized. The film seems to consist entirely of tracking shots, primarily within the theater. The narrow hallways and cluttered changing rooms provide an almost claustrophobic feeling throughout the film. A jazz-like drumbeat makes up the minimalistic score that permeates the entire picture. The music works in conjunction with the film to give a feeling that something is ever so slightly off kilter. Throughout the film, there are hints that Riggan may actually have some semblance of super powers including flight and telekinesis. However, the camera reveals itself to not necessarily be the most reliable narrator, and whether or not these powers exist isn’t clear until the ending. Even the ending however does not clearly say whether his powers are real or fictional. 

Edward Norton plays Mike Shiner, an incredibly talented and egotistic actor, who admits to himself that he is an “asshole.” His character is always touting his artistic worth while antagonizing all those around him, highlighted by trying to force his girlfriend/costar (played by an always enjoyably Naomi Watts) to have sex with him on stage because that’s the only place he feels real. “Popularity is the slutty cousin of prestige” he rambles on drunkenly to Riggan in his best Rust Cohle impression. He may play deep characters on stage, but he’s a shallow coward in real life. Given the emphasis on the character’s talent/difficulty to work with dichotomy, Shiner seems to be a satire of Edward Norton, who’s own disagreements with directors and management are well known through popular media.

Continuing the theme of personal satire, Keaton’s character also hearkens to his breakthrough Batman franchise that he left, much like the character leaving Birdman. Riggan is constantly wanting more. He wants to be loved by his fans and his family. However, love is only part of the equation. Respect and the desire for legacy have caused him to fund his own Broadway performance, similar to Keaton’s recent foray into the indie film world. Other key contributors are Zach Galifianakis in a great turn as Riggan’s best friend/attorney, and Emma Stone as Riggan’s recovering drug addict daughter who is also his assistant. One of the key scenes in the film is Stone’s character ripping her father to shreds about his delusions to become a respectable auteur in which the camera focuses solely on her face. Stone brings an intensity to the scene that emphasizes some of the realistic aspects of the film regarding familiar relationships.

No matter what happens with Riggan, his inability to be satisfied leads to a bizarre ending in which he attempts suicide, leading to his play being a massive hit. The epilogue shows Riggan in the hospital room, and after spending two hours of making the audience think his shown “powers” are all mental delusions, one grand finale nudges the audience to the other side of that spectrum. The film consists of excellent performances by the cast, especially Keaton and Norton. However, it drags a bit towards the end, and the epilogue creates more questions than it answers. While a relatively straightforward narrative, the film is anything but. Overall, this is one of the most original and unique films of 2014 and features one of Keaton’s finest performances in storied career. 

Final Say: Watch It

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He's a native Texan (YEE-HAW) who loves everything Michael Bay has ever touched. When he's not blogging, he's working on his mobile app, BoxHopp, or tinkering with his fantasy football lineups.
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