Saturday, November 1, 2014

Indie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

                                    'Birdman' Soars Like A Fierce, Fully Feathered Eagle

          I may have mentioned this before on some of my past reviews, but it is very rare when I say a film is perfection. This certainly describes the film I am about to review. Birdman is not only a perfectly-crafted movie that demonstrates why we love to enjoy and analyze movies, but shows why we love to make movies. Plus, it is a blend of both creative artistic integrity and entertainment.

         Birdman follows the story of a former movie star named Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who looks to recapture his former fame by adapting a short story named What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver into a Broadway play. However, he struggles to overcome his own ego while encountering a few other mishaps, including dealing with the equally egotistical actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as well as the strained relationship between himself and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone).

        Where do I begin here? Probably Everything. But I'll dissect this section to go into more detail other than "it was phenomenal". First off, I'll get into the direction and cinematography. The film was shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, who also did the cinematography for Gravity. While Gravity has an opening 17-minute long take, Birdman is structured as if it is an almost 2-hour long take and I loved how that isn't used as a simple gimmick. Both Lubezki and director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu manage to use the whole one-take approach for different storytelling techniques, like using the camera as video diaries for all the different characters and there are even scenes where they manage to blend both reality and fantasy. For example, one scene shows a hallucination of helicopters fighting this big giant bird while Riggan then flies around the city and when it comes back to reality, it doesn't cut back to it. The camera just moves around and I was left in awe when I was watching it in the theater. I especially loved the brilliant score by Antonio Sanchez during that scene. When I came home after I saw the film, I started humming the score, which is a blend of both upbeat jazz and traditional classical violin music.

         Next, I'll get into the performances. Michael Keaton gives a career-best performance as Riggan Thomson that is a blend of both comedy and pathos. Keaton is not only perfectly cast for this role because of how great he is, but he is almost a parallel of the character since he played Batman and that is the role that almost defines his career. However, Riggan Thomson actually hears the voice of the character of Birdman, who serves as the devil on his shoulders. So, it is very nice that Keaton is able to poke fun at himself, same with Edward Norton. For those of you who don't know, Edward Norton has had a reputation for being difficult and since the character of Mike is pretty difficult, it is neat to watch him poke fun at himself. But Norton's performance is excellent and rather complex. He doesn't just play a simple, one-dimensional egotist but instead he reveals layers to his character and shows off a more sensitive side in his quieter moments. Next, I'll get into the brilliance of Emma Stone as Sam, Riggan's recently rehabilitated daughter/personal assistant with a lack of a filter. Almost every time Stone was on screen, I would just wait for her to attack and when she does, she has me in stitches. I would say this is her best work since Easy A and almost a complete 180 from her work in that film. Zach Galifianakis is also in this as Riggan's lawyer Jake, who tries to hold the whole play together, and he has some nice comedic moments as well. Naomi Watts has a pretty small role as Lesley, an actress in the play who is an actress in the play and she delivers quite a round character as an actress who becomes rather self-aware that she lacks self-respect. Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough also have small roles as Riggan's ex-wife and girlfriend respectively, but like the other actors, they both have characters that are quite round and leave a mark when they are on screen.


      Overall, Birdman is a rare gem that is a reminder of not only why we watch movies, but why we make them: to try and reinvent the wheel. We watch movies to experience them and thankfully because the film hardly has any cuts, we get the full experience. We get inside the minds of our brilliant characters while we listen to the beautiful score, become entertained, and observe the film's thematic material involving the conventions of show business. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Grade: A++