Review: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

March 15, 2015

Birdman soars

Review: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
**** ½
Dir:  Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing Best Director, Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography) and winning in the latter four categories, Birdman is director Iñárritu’s tour de force. Many of his previous efforts (21 Grams, Babel) have been well-meaning but overly ambitious, reaching for meanings and significance that were either just not there or seemed forced down your throat. But in Birdman, ambition and artistry come together almost seamlessly.

The movie is shot as though it is one long, single take.

It is not, only made to look as if it is even if most of its scenes are long extended ones. But the movie cannot be reduced to a mere stunt.

The script combines sharp humour with bleakness and tragedy and blends flights of fancy with stark realism. It takes pot-shots at Hollywood and the narcissism of actors along with pot-shots at egotistical critics who pontificate unnecessarily. It comments on issues such as sanity, parenting, marriage, the desire to create and to be creative, the chase for success, the desire to leave a legacy. And it does this through some wonderful characters.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a one-time huge Hollywood star who starred in a successful superhero franchise. Now he’s trying to make a comeback through a play on Broadway written and directed by himself (the parallels to Keaton’s own life and career are not un-coincidental). At the same time he’s trying to repair his broken relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone) while also dealing with the outsized personality of his play’s co-star, a method actor who is also a box-office draw (Edward Norton, a method actor notorious for being difficult). The other people in Riggan’s life consist of his leading lady (Naomi Watts), his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), his long-suffering agent (Zach Galifianakis) and his ex-wife (Amy Ryan). It’s a great set of characters brought to life by a great cast.

The movie’s only misstep comes at the end as Iñárritu opts for a finale which feels like a cop-out. But that’s a minor quibble for a movie which deserves all the accolades it has received.

Cut to chase: Brilliant. Watch it.

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Review: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)