Birdman takes flight right to the top of the must-see list
Backed by a dynamic ensemble, a strikingly bold sense of direction and captivating original story, Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is endlessly enjoyable and one of the year’s true standouts unlike anything else you’ll see all year.
Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) used to be somebody. As the man behind the mask of the blockbuster superhero, Birdman, Riggan became a household name idolized by millions. And while he could earn another major payday by appearing in a fourth Birdman film, he’s found a passion project that excites him far more — starring and directing a play on Broadway.
But the play seems cursed right before opening night as an accident takes out his lead actor forcing Riggan to hire Mike (an outstanding Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk), a Broadway regular whose overbearing personality would keep him unemployed if he wasn’t such a brilliant performer.
Additionally, Riggan is trying to help his ex-junkie daughter, Sam (Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight), on her path to recovery. Typically, Stone is that ray of sunshine and beaming glimmer of hope and optimism in every role so it was a welcome change of pace to see her playing the darker character.
With a new blockbuster comic book movie seemingly every other month, Birdman feels especially timely. It plays out like the 2014 version of The Wrestler — offering a precautionary tale on the fleeting glory of fame and making sense of life after the bright lights go out. Yet for its possible downer tone, the film is just as laugh out loud funny as it is thought-provoking thanks to a sensational script.
Keaton is rightfully gaining a lot of critical buzz as a serious Best Actor contender. He makes Riggan an immensely relatable character who has seen his moment of glory pass him by and simply wants to make an impact. From the amazing Time Square sequence where he’s wearing nothing but his underwear to a juicy award clip monologues where he’s sounding off on critics and today’s modern celebrity, Keaton lays it all out in a fearless performance.
He’s also backed by an outstanding supporting cast from Norton and Stone — who both should receive supporting acting nominations — to quality work by Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and a welcome understated turn by Zach Galianakis (The Hangover), who like Stone, goes against type and gives a more straight-laced performance.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (one of four credited screenwriters) puts the viewer in Riggan’s chaotic mindset with a constant sense of movement and panning around the characters mid-conversation, a closer than comfortable perspective during the dialogue heavy moments and an effortless transition from one character to the next.
Unlike a traditional film, Birdman feels like one long act without scene breaks to slow down the action. A driving, pounding and at times overpowering score adds to the sense of urgency and immediacy. By all rights, the film could easily have become a mess with so many moving parts to juggle, but Inarritu handles it with ease making for a fascinating viewing experience. That’s even before the potential disastrous subplot of Riggan dealing with his Birdman subconscious and his ‘powers.’
Inarritu earned a 2007 Best Picture Oscar nomination for Babel. He should undoubtedly earn his second Oscar nod if not outright win here for the technical majesty and compelling story few knew we desperately needed to see. Don’t be ignorant of Birdman’s excellence and miss out on seeing one of the most engaging, original films that have graced the big screen in far too long.