It’s amazing how much the film industry has (and hasn’t changed) since the original 1989 “Batman” film was released starring Michael Keaton. For a time, “Batman” and “Superman: The Movie ” (and “Superman II”) were the only films you could point to in the superhero genre that were successful both financially and critically. Now 25 years later, the superhero genre is hitting pandemonium levels. and with that Michael Keaton returns to the superhero game but in a far different way than we ever imagined. “Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a sophisticated satirical piece on the modern Hollywood mach but it’s also near a showcase of pitch perfect directing and acting. “Birdman” is not a film for everyone and at times it becomes a little too self indulgent but this highly entertaining and riveting art work will be a force to be reckoned with when the Oscars come rolling around.
Michael Keaton plays the washed up, once superstar actor Riggan(the former man behind the mega blockbusters “Birdman”). Now years later he has decided to produce, direct, and star in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver production. Poised with ambition and determined to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Riggan encounters numinous challenges and obstacles with not just his production crew but also within himself.
Part way through the film, Michael Keaton’s character is coming out of a liquor store and encounters a man reciting a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, “Macbeth”. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing” (act 5, scene 5). Why is this important to note? To act as a metaphor for the story as a whole. One of the main themes in “Macbeth” is corrupting powers of unchecked ambition. In “Birdman” the various screenwriters juxtapose Riggan’s attempt to have it all again and produce a great piece of art against the two main characters of “Macbeth”; as everyone’s ambition becomes a point for crumbling tragedy (which holds more relevance when you begin to see the Hallucinations that Riggan has, much like in “Macbeth”). Whether intentional or not bridging these two stories in juxtaposition, adds a whole new layer and depth to the script. These themes are subtle, and something I didn’t pick up on till the car ride home.
Yet what the script does so brilliantly is use the narrative of Riggan and the play as a way to bring in satire on not only modern day Hollywood trends but also of society. “Birdman” creates satire by within the context of this play and let’s social commentary flow in naturally through the situations the characters are involved with. It takes shots at big blockbusters, superhero films, artist vs. critics, social networking and film journalism. Does it at times become a little too self indulgent? Yeah it does, but never does “Birdman” cross the line of preachy or satire for satire sake.
Anyone who reviews movies when trying to communicate how good an actor was, they say “he or she was Oscar worthy” without even considering if there is a chance of a nomination (and I do quite a bit as well). However, “Birdman” has several actors that have a great chance to nominated.
The first one is the actor everyone is buzzing about and that is Michael Keaton as Riggan/Birdman. Keaton has always been a good actor but never once in his career has he been able to showcase his talents as much as he has been able to here. He has intense moments that rivet you while you’re watching but can also easily make you laugh at the same time. Keaton portrays a man on the edge of sanity with finesse and grace while giving some real emotional weight; he gets to play all range of emotions. Michael Keaton is phenomenal in this career defining role.
The rest of the cast may be a bit overshadowed by Keaton’s powerhouse performance but are still worth recognizing. Edward Norton should be up for a best supporting actor award as Mike, the tough hard to work actor, that is wickedly talented but causes a lot of problems on set. Emma Stone isn’t getting talked about enough but easily should be up for best supporting actress. She sheds her Gwen Stacy role for something more hard edged multi layered as Riggan’s drug addict estranged daughter. Zach Galifianakis of “Hangover” fame gives a confident performance and breaks free of his normal shtick. Zach could shift his career more towards dramatic acting and “Birdman” is a good showcase of his talents as a dramatic actor.
Everyone is talking about “Birdman’s” main star, Michael Keaton, but some are forgetting the other main star, director Alejandro González Iñárritu (perhaps it’s because he name is difficult to pronounce). This is a masterful and memorable work from behind the camera for Alejandro. At a certain point in the film you realized you haven’t seen a cut yet, “Birdman” was filmed to look like one long shot. Although “Birdman” wasn’t actually filmed with one continuous take and you can sort of guess where the cuts MIGHT have been but Alejandro convinces us that this is one long take. Perhaps you can say that it’s gimmicky because why would you want one long take? However, here it works and adds to the atmosphere of the picture ( It’s not something every film should attempt). Like “Boyhood”, “Birdman” rises above a gimmicky premise to create something that feels original.
“Birdman” may be 5 minutes too long, and isn’t a movie for everyone, but when it comes down to it, “Birdman” succeeds in what it sets out to do. I encourage everyone to go give a shot at what is sure to be an Oscar contender, and an experience you won’t soon forget.