Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) – Movie Review

Birdman is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (most known for the excellent “Amores Perros”) and stars Michael Keaton as Riggan, a washed up actor who used to play a superhero (Birdman) and wants to be taken seriously, which leads him to write a play for Broadway. In the midst of this, he is struggling to have a relationship with his daughter Sam (played by Emma Stone), and is forced to deal with an extremely demanding and overall hard to work with lead actor named Mike, who is wonderfully portrayed by Edward Norton.

As the title states, the film isn’t just about the making of this Broadway play. It’s about blockbuster movies, a superhero obsessed culture, it’s about pretentious film critics, and struggling to bond with your family. It’s about struggling to find purpose in your life. This film is a lot more complicated than a plot synopsis would have it appear, and the film and it’s messages, especially the ending, can be interpreted in thousands of ways.

Monologues are one of the first things that come to mind when I think about this film. Emma Stone delivers a seriously powerful one to Keaton, and Keaton delivers potentially the greatest monologue of all time (slight exaggeration, but one of the greatest) to a film critic. These monologues are a true testament to the ability of these actors and actresses. Like I mentioned earlier, Norton portrays the character of Mike extraordinarily well, in fact it might even be his best performance next to Fight Club. Keaton is amazing, much worthy of his Golden Globe win and his Oscar nomination, and Emma Stone is great, as always. It impresses me that these characters were able to remember their lines with such long takes. Speaking of which…

For those of you who don’t know, the whole film, besides the beginning and close to the end, is designed to look like one take. You can spot some places where they most likely used editing tricks to make it look like one take when really it was just a transition into another take, but other than that, the film is completely seamless. The one take cinematography makes you feel like you’re actually there with the actors, tagging along with them for the ride. “Rope” from Hitchcock pioneered this style, but Birdman nearly perfects it. This is truly a remarkable achievement in cinematography, directing, and editing.

The writing is fantastic in addition to all of this. With perfect comedic timing, excellent (previously mentioned) monologues, and just really good banter between the characters, the films kinetic directing perfectly matches the the energy of the writing.

The single flaw I have with this movie is the drum based soundtrack. It feels very out of place, and doesn’t have the same energy the rest of the film has. It kills some moments, but this is a very small price to pay for the scenes when it’s not playing, which are just incredible.

With wonderful performances by it’s excellent cast, a great comedic tone that blends perfectly with the drama, and some excellent direction, cinematography, and editing, this is a film that perfectly displays a mastering of the craft. The drum based score might be a bit “meh” but it’s a small price to pay for this profound experience.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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