Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Release Date: October 24th, 2014
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one of the most exciting things to hit theaters in a long time. This is the rare movie that will remind cinema-goers why they love going to the movies in the first place. Not only is it original and well-crafted but it’s also one of the smartest movies of the year.
Michael Keaton stars as the main character, an actor named Riggan who previously starred in a Birdman superhero film franchise. Riggan may have performed in other productions but audiences on the street simply know him as Birdman in the same way that some viewers know Robert Downey Jr. only as Iron Man or they know Chris Evans only as Captain America. Riggan, now a middle-aged struggling actor, is trying to change that by directing, adapting and starring in a Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Riggan has something to prove and in this feature’s two hour running time, we watch as he attempts to overcome obstacle after obstacle in order to prove it. After an accident during one of the play’s rehearsals, famed Broadway star Mike (Edward Norton) is sent in to play one of the supporting parts in the play alongside actress girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts). Two other people working on the production are Riggan’s entitled daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and his frenzied manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis). Over the course of a few days, Riggan faces dozens of issues— from the personal to the political— and tries to face them all, despite the voices in his head that keep telling him to return to the Birdman franchise.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu stages the entire film like it’s one shot— gliding his camera around the stage, the theater and even the streets of New York to show the rehearsals of this play and the work that goes into the production. It’s seamless film-making that puts the actors center stage while the fast-paced dialogue touches perfectly on a variety of disparate topics that coalesce into one man’s story.
Part of its brilliance lies in its satirizing Hollywood’s obsession with big-budget blockbuster movies (“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige,” Mike states.) It’s an ironic target considering the fact that Keaton, Norton and Stone have all performed in comic book movies but because of that subtle irony, the jokes work even better. These actors know the importance of doing big films but they also know that they are capable of so much more and each of them have appeared in their share of under-appreciated gems that never got the audiences they deserved. There are also knowing jokes about the importance of social media and the difference between actors and celebrities (a harsh New York Times critic notes to Riggan: “You’re not an actor. You’re a celebrity”).
Birdman is a one-of-a-kind film where so many different elements come together magnificently. From the sharp script to the director who is clearly at the top of his game to his brilliant cast (with Keaton mounting a major comeback here), this is a film that will excite and electrify audiences. One thing that also should be mentioned here is the soundtrack, which makes the whole situation feel like it’s taking place in a hip new jazz venue where the players are smart, the lighting is perfect and the rhythm is on beat. This entire feature is on beat and easily one of the year’s best.
Review by: John Hanlon