Friday, October 24, 2014


When viewing BIRDMAN, the newest film from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, it’s difficult to not take it as an autobiography of its star, Michael Keaton. Centered around a former action star who is trying to recapture his old glory, it very much is a large chapter out of Keaton’s career. But once you get your head around that, BIRDMAN (subtitled THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), has a lot more to offer.
Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is a former action movie-star who hasn’t had a hit in 20 years, and is now hearing the voice of his old character, a winged superhero, in his head. Thomson is directing and starring in his Broadway play with the help of his manager (Zach Galifianakis), and angsty daughter (Emma Stone), and is constantly banging heads with the play’s star (Edward Norton).

On the surface, BIRDMAN feels a little like a standard superhero film, only put in reverse. Where the standard template has a hero struggling with his true self, BIRDMAN goes behind the scenes and inside the head of the actor who once was famous for wearing the costume. The Birdman persona he hears acts as an antagonist in the film, as it pokes and prods Thomson in all the wrong directions; where Thomson wants to move on with his life and have meaning in the world again, the Birdman persona wants to recapture the old glory. Reality merges with fantasy several times as Thomson’s imagination unleashes some wild and stunning happenings that we aren’t quite sure are real or not, and BIRDMAN soars as it tears through Thomson’s mind.
And under the surface, BIRDMAN has a lot more to say. Set in modern times, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu uses the film as an opportunity to say a few things about fame and its price, and what it can do to a person and his family. The film has a lot going on as Thomson struggles with staging his play, his daughter who hates him, a girlfriend on the outs, and the star of the play…whom he needs for the production to succeed, constantly mocking him. The many storylines converge together nicely, and Inarritu makes every character worthwhile. The writing is razor-sharp and full of wit, and the laughs come at you so fast you need a minute to catch up.

BIRDMAN is a technical marvel. Made to look like the entire movie is shot in one long take (you will never spot the edit points), most of it is an illusion with clever camera trickery but a lot of it is done in real-time…even with the film taking place over several days. BIRDMAN very much feels like a stage production, or even a live television event, as the fluid camera movement and on-the-spot performances by the cast gives it a very realistic feel. From start to finish, BIRDMAN is fascinating to behold.
Performances are spectacular and should serve as an acting clinic to all new up-and-comers. Michael Keaton is tremendous as he balances one emotion after another while shouldering the burden of an actor whose best days may be behind him. It would be dismissive to say that Keaton is just playing himself, as he works much harder and deeper than that. Edward Norton performs at an unbelievable level and is probably at his best ever. The supporting cast of Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Amy Ryan are rock-solid…and Emma Stone nearly steals the show with the best work she’s ever done.

BIRDMAN really shoots for the stars with its many plotlines and themes and statements, and it may not hit the bullseye on every single one of them, but it certainly gets close enough to earn a high score. Funny and dark, real and honest, this an unabridged look inside of a man’s head, and it is nothing short of a glorious flight.


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