Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory. (IMDB)

Writers:  Alejandro Gonzalez, Nicolas Giacobone
Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars:  Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Run time/Rating:  119 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score:  Large Popcorn with Butter

I hope that Birdman doesn’t get narrowly labeled as just a movie with tremendous acting or as a technical masterpiece by a director and cinematographer who are at the top of their careers.  Those labels would be far from false, and not unfortunate labels, however left alone they would be leaving out much of the greatness that makes up this fantastic and truly one of a kind film.  An incredible depth of characters, extreme originality in the plot, impressive special effects, and reality based drama among lovers, ex-lovers, fathers, daughters, friends and fellow actors are other labels that would help in getting closer to describing the completeness of Birdman.

The opening shot is of a man who appears to be floating in the lotus positions staring outside of a dressing room window.  At a closer look he not only appears to be floating, he is floating.  Without any description you can already tell this movie is not entirely based in reality.  A deep voice which is heard throughout booms through.  It is the voice of Birdman, speaking to the floating man named Riggan, the man who once was Birdman, the major blockbusting superhero trilogy of the early 90’s.  Riggan today, is an aging actor making one last effort to re-launch his career and attempting to do so on the grand stage of Broadway.

The show which Riggan has adapted, directed and is staring in is currently in previews and it’s not going well.  In one of the final dress rehearsals after Riggan and his supporting male lead have an argument about the feeling of the scene,  Riggan has a light fixture fall from the sky and land the man’s head as an abrupt way to eliminate him from the show.  This leaves a 4 character play with only 3 actors a few nights before open.  Enter Mike (Edward Norton) from stage left.  Mike is the friend of cast member and Broadway rookie Lesley(Naomi Watts) and is a staple on the Broadway stage.  He is as loved by audiences and critics as he is crazy intense on and off the stage.  He is one of the problems that Riggan is forced to deal with before the curtain rises on opening night.

Some of the other issues that Riggan is currently juggling are a thankless daughter fresh out of rehab who is acting as his assistant (Emma Stone), an ex-wife who although is still loving has seen it all from her ex-superstar/husband and has grown more than tired of it over the years, and a co-star in Laura (Andrea Risebrough) who we find out early is carrying Riggan’s baby.  All of these issues are piling on to the daunting attempt to revitalize his career and shake the image – and the voices and hallucinations in his head of his past life as Birdman.

The acting is superb.  Michael Keaton is back in full effect.  From what I understand, current day Keaton  is nothing like the character Riggan, however it cannot be ignored that he is playing a part that somewhat mirrors his career path, at least in the sense that he starred in a big blockbusting series in the early 90’s and to a certain degree has left the lime light.  He thrives in a role which demands variations of comedy and intense dramatic moments as well.  As great Keaton is, I am tempted to say that Edward Norton steals the show for me.  I thought that his portrayal of the “method” style actor Mike who comes on stage and on set like a perfect thunderstorm was so entertaining.  To fuel the fire away from the stage, Mike and Sam(Stone) develop a lusty relationship for one another and both play the awkwardness of their positions and their desires to perfection.

Beyond the acting is a brilliant presentation by writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, known for his work in Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Biutiful amongs others.  He uses a sweeping camera that seemingly never cuts for the length of the film.  It takes the action from one room to the next, the left wing of the theater to the right and then all around New York City and Back.  It is really something that I don’t think I have seen before.  It has a feeling of a seamless scene change for a highly produced Broadway stage show.  Perhaps that “magic of the theater” is what he was looking to recreate considering the film’s foundation.  Very impressive nevertheless based on whatever the inspiration was.

There is already award buzz buzzing for Keaton, directing and the film as a whole but I wouldn’t recommend waiting on this one.  If you are deciding on the next movie to go out and see, I would make it this one.

Large Popcorn with Butter!

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