Birdman; Alejandro González Iñárritu, Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough
The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance appears as an alternative title to Birdman. Walk into the theater having known nothing about the movie and the virtue of ignorance will dawn upon you as well when you walk out. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his merry men have crafted a movie of such supreme emotional impact that the end, if you are like me, it will leave you both dejected and elated. The fifth feature film to be directed by Inarritu is a layered dramedy dipping into the darkly comic nature of human ego and psyche, self deprecating, uplifting and sublime all around. The director shares writing credits with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dineralis Jr and Armando Bo all of whom will end up being quizzed about its ending for quite some time to come.
In casting Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed up post middle age actor who has not done anything of significance since playing titular comic hero in three movies, Inarritu stages his first coup. While Keaton assures us that his life is nothing like Riggans, people will make the unfortunate comparison and it does not help that there are numerous easter eggs pointing to little things that I am sure you will have fun identifying. But that does not make Birdman special, what does is a few unique things that Inarritu knew would make or break the movie. The treasure box cast, apart from Keaton, includes Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Risenborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis. And no, it isn’t the simple fact that the cast is stellar. The almost magical quality of the movie comes from the delightful but painfully difficult process of combining extra long takes seamlessly to showcase the movie as one long continuously shot video. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki(of Gravity fame) and Inarritu come up trumps in this department and score a fantastic win because of the way the comedy and the drama work in spite of the movie running like one long shot.
‘Birdman’ lampoons notions of blockbuster movie making and along the way a number of big names are dragged down into the satirical genius of the dialogue that goes on between the troubled actor, who is acting/directing/co-producing an adaptation of a Ray Carver’s plays, and his friends/crew. ‘Ambitious’ says Ed Norton to Keaton, spouting the first of many brash truisms while playing a method actor and probably pulling his own leg. A quick read up or a quick viewing of the many making-of featurettes available(though I don’t recommend this before you watch the movie) will give one an idea of the painstaking amount of choreography and rehearsal that has gone into achieving the end product. Delving into one characters reality while maintaining the reality of things taking place around that character is difficult enough to achieve without having to keep the interaction between the other characters fresh. That is where the stellar quality of the cast really shines through. Most of the movie occurs within confined quarters(New York’s iconic St.James theater) with the climax alone leading us away from the square.
For a change(especially after Babel and Biutiful), Inarritu seems to have had a lot of fun with ‘Birdman’. Have I said enough about the movie being made to look like one continuous take? I can see your urgent nod and so I shall stop about that. He takes us through narrow corridors, backstage areas, make up rooms, theater balconies and Broadway rooftops on a journey of magical realism. And while he walks us through there is the punch of a fresh score by Antonio Sanchez that is mostly just drums and cymbals urging us on. Why the Academy of Motion Pictures thought it should be rejected is beyond me. Be it as it may that most of it is just classical music, putting music together for a movie like this is award worthy by itself. While Keaton gives us a forceful performance as Riggan with a moving and almost lacerating delivery of histrionics, Edward Norton (did I mention this before as well?) makes fun of himself while challenging Riggan and his quest. Naomi Watts’ character making her debut as a Broadway actress excels in a role which while neurotic has brilliant light and heavy themes. Zach is barely himself but still shows his acting chops in a character that seems to have been written for him (Scorsese you say, ah well maybe..). Emma Stone (incidentally the actor who according to Keaton and Norton messed up the most in the long takes) gives us another peek into her brilliant side playing Riggans troubled daughter with youthful ease.
When the end credits roll, and the last ‘fuck you’ has been directed by one indignant personality to another, the sense of exhilaration resulting from being a part of something unique is powerful. What is clear is that this is a movie that has come forth from a lot of hard work and maybe a greater amount of love. And when there is true labour of love, the end result is usually spectacular, only ‘Birdman’ is a little more than that. In making me consider that it might just surpass ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ this year in terms of its cinematic excellence, Birdman takes us on the ultimate flight of fancy!