Movie Review: ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’
For me at least, there is a direct correlation between my enjoyment of a film and the amount of time I think about a film after I’ve left the theatre. This usually manifests itself in time spent uselessly devouring trivia on IMDB and scouring the internet for reviews. Let’s just say I’m sincerely grateful it’s not finals week.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), stars Michael Keaton in a highly self-referential role as Riggan Thompson, a former superhero movie star seeking to validate his decision to spurn the superhero and reclaim some of his thespian cred and former glory on the Broadway stage. The irony that he’s trying to escape the “vain-celebrity-not-an-actor” typecast by writing, directing, and starring in his own adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (a decidedly highbrow collection of short stories), is not lost on Thompson. It’s a vanity project, and the lack of subtlety (as well as the fact he’s put all his money into the production) ramps up his self-consciousness and desperation. A questionable turn of events leads to the re-casting of the second male lead with Edward Norton’s Mike Shiner. The incredible Steadicam work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki takes us behind the curtain as Shiner’s insufferable Method acting and Thompson’s growing insecurities (ever-present as a voice-over by a younger version of himself) threaten to derail the production headlong into an opening night debacle.
I can’t give enough credit to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s masterful camerawork. I remember watching Children of Men when I was 18 and trying to figure out what had made those final scenes so riveting. Internet scouring led me to an article explaining how a single continuous take adds dramatic intensity by immersing you in the action. Case in point: the opening scene in Gravity, another incredible example of how much filmmaking technique can add to the experience of a film. What’s that? Lubezski was responsible for both of those iconic tracking shots? Of course he was.
Birdman takes place over several days but plays out as one long, continuous shot. This adds a sense of urgency and creates the illusion that we are privy to what is “really” going on behind the scenes. We get to see what the actors are seeing and how the events that transpire affect them, all in real time. What gets my head spinning, of course, is that we, as the audience, are seeing actors act as actors acting as actors? Not even sure how much meta is going on here, but pretty sure there’s more than a couple layers there.
I also loved the way Norton and Keaton’s characters are initially polar opposites thematically, but as the film plays out the audience gets to decide for themselves what authenticity means to the actors and to themselves.
The film is worth a watch and even worth the price of a movie ticket in LA.