Film Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
is a snapshot in the life of former superhero actor, Michael Keaton's Riggan Thompson. Thompson once made billions of dollars in the massively successful Birdman trilogy but now the he has resorted to adapting Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. All seems to be going as planned until Thompson has bring in method actor Mike Shiner, played as an excellent Edward Norton. Soon enough Shiner is causing all kinds of problems with the running of the show. Thompson has to juggle keeping Shiner in line, looking after his fresh out of rehab, played by an always outstanding Emma Stone and dealing with his co-star wife, played by Andrea Riseborough.
With an opening shot of Keaton levitating a few feet from the ground in his tighty whities over a monologue discussing the room smelling like balls sets the tone for the rest of the film. Right from the moment Keaton's feet touch the ground the film's pace takes off, grabbing you by the throat and refuses to let you to till the end credits. At the centre of Birdman is Keaton, the film gravitates towards him with a solid and confident performance. Stone's ex-junkie Sam, comes close to walking away with the best performance in with a soul crushing, dream destroying monologue spat out with immense conviction. The supporting cast consisting of an underwritten Naomi Watts, who does the best with what she is given, Riseborough is excellent as Thompson's co-starring girlfriend and Norton squares up to Keaton in every scene threatening to steal the show. Even Zach Galifianakis, an actor famous for playing one of the most annoying comic characters in recent cinema history, puts in a great performance. But the film's major fault is not in it's performances but rather in it's director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Like Hitchcock with Rope, Inarritu shoots Birdman as if it was shot in one take. Obviously, this isn't possible but the director seamlessly blends in scenes, with his camera following Keaton's Riggan's every step, sometime getting distracted with the supporting cast. As skillful as this technique is, it is incredibly exhausting to watch and made no easier with the constant drumming that accompanies the film throughout, which pulls you out of the film with every drum beat.
And this is the major problem with Birdman, it's ambition is it's ultimate downfall. The film is stylistically self conscious, it shows the drummer whose constant rackets pierces through the film, Riggan tells a story of a flight with George Clooney, even Keaton's role as an actor fighting for prominence has a strong sense of fiction about it that you just feel like you are watching Keaton rather than Riggan. While Birdman struts around with confidence it is unsure exactly what it wants to be. Is it a satire of the superhero genre? Or is it a study of the fragility of fame and stardom? Whatever it is, Birdman doesn't fly but falls with self conscious style.