Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014

This review may contain spoilers
© Fox Searchlight Pictures
Poster Art Courtesy © Joris Laquittant

How do you make a film that is shot in one big tracking sequence and make it look like a single 119-minute long shot? How do you even begin to fathom making a film without the luxury of cutting away or editing around anything? You either live the scene(s) or you pass. You either make sure that the film is fluid enough or you throw in the towel. Or the entire crew rehearses as if it is their last film, either that or you check out due to repetitious phases. A piano recital would never want any cuts because the pianist is creating something to hear and experience the whole composition like it is meant to be (case in point, the ill-fated Justice League, 2017, and the matter of executives not getting a bonus that year, if the film wasn’t released as per schedule – you know the rest, how Joss Whedon was hired to set fire to the whole shit house and try to get Batman to completely lose his brood and Supes, his facial hair).
Alright, so how does anyone manage to execute such a colossal task. Well, you hire, what’s his name, yeah; Alejandro González Iñárritu – or he hires himself and Naomi Watts (Demolition, 2015) and Edward Norton, and also maybe Michael Keaton when he’s not busy interconnecting the Marvel Universe by casually greeting the most hated, Joker (a misinterpreted, miscalculated characterization by Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club, 2013), with a casual. “Hey what’s up doc?” and flashing a smile that would sometimes escape the cowls of Burton.

As diverse as genre categories can get, Birdman is a black-humor film, a mental health film, a realism, surrealism, magical realism film, a dark-humor parody film, a film of psychological realism, a failed domestic reconciliation drama, and a film concerning theatrical realism and naturalism. That’s a whole lot of realistic baggage for someone who thought 21 Grams was heavy; hence, for the love of Iñárritu and his body of work, the multiple plot lines are deliberately included in this film, which are intentionally left unresolved at the ending. A final tailspin of a mid-life crisis, perhaps?


Birdman is emotionally manipulative and satirical critique of contemporary theatrical, yup, realism in its functioning, with dazzling cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and a fantastic Jazz percussion score by Antonio Sánchez and source placements and screen transitions that you will not be able to determine even with the help of the twenty-seven million dollar electron microscope. Birdman is hypnotic, full of brilliant wit and dialogue exchanges; with themes of achieving a higher philosophical level of being after having tasted the low. 

A level, which is stuck in a poster frame, in Riggan‘s (Michael Keaton) office, since 1992.

Revered critic Matthew Pejkovici compared the film to Federico Fellini‘s Otto e mezzo or 12. Similar to Fellini‘s masterpiece, the beauty of Birdman lies in its confusion, a mixture of error and truth, reality and dream, stylistic and human values, and in the complete harmony between Lubezki’s cinematographic language and Riggan’s rambling imagination. The osmosis between art and life is astonishing. It will be difficult to repeat this achievement for shizzle.

Birdman is a simple story of a has-been superstar, and a has-been superhuman trying to get his show up on Broadway (initially, however, something else goes up, much to our surprise and delight). 
Iñárritu‘s film is complete, simple, beautiful, honest. It carries the importance, the magnitude, and the technical mastery of avant-garde filmmaking. Birdman is almost prodigious. However, that is where some of its misgivings burgeon, when some compare the film to the work of French director Jean-Luc Godard. The film mastery of the latter is almost impossible to even get close to (but of course, it’s Godard we’re talking about), and  Richard Brody of The New Yorker suggests, “it’s not a good idea for a filmmaker to get in the ring with Mr. Godard”.
With that said and done, director Iñárritu’s film is fantastically liberating. And the performances make sure that there’s a total absence of precaution and hypocrisy, absolute dispassionate sincerity, artistic and financial courage, these are the characteristics of this incredible undertaking. It could also have gone South and could have become a structural disaster or a disheartening fiasco had the film not been a movie endowed with the challenge of a fascinating intellectual game.

Michael Keaton’s return to form is confident and splendid and most admirable. His alter ego is the funniest. It reminded me of Tom the GPS from Big Driver, 2014 (not comparing). Edward Norton (Fight Club, 1999) is remarkable, provocative (he is also a Yalie with a BA in History), the recluse, the actor who Hollywood won’t cast anymore for some God knows fuck for peace reason and also because he added forty minutes to X (so he goes ahead and makes and finances and writes a film on his own, the neo-noir, Motherless Brooklyn, 2019), as the method king of the Tony Award. Norton is such a great performer, with complexity for value. He is what the LA Times calls a “prickly perfectionist“. Mike Shiner is a talented but volatile actor, as a self-referential nod to his image.
Where’d he go after American History X, 1998?
To The Incredible Hulk, 2008‘; where he also took the Oscar with him, in-case Tim Roth also brought his bronze Bafta award, that’s where. 

I still feel like I’m sitting on a dolly, moving on tracks that wind through hallways, corridors, buildings, glowing blue and red Infidel Castro moment (almost), the Pauline Kael for Broadway, Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012) coming of age and burning a Bogart one day out of rehab. How is rehab any good when people overdose just one day out of it, (Black Metal Veins, 2012)?  

Birdman’ or the ‘The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance becomes the biggest promotional headline and Riggan‘s (Michael Keaton who brings a profound depth to the comedy and the empathy) return to the spotlight – just when a costumed super-hero is taking a dump while Riggan looks into the mirror and cusses. 

With a feel of an independent film, except for the special effects and the star-studded cast, Birdman rises above all ambition, all dreams, all fantasies, all plans, everything that should’ve mattered and in the end becomes a straightforward and undemanding film that just doesn’t entertain but makes us feel for Bruce Wayne more than we felt for him back in 1989. 

The filmmakers could have done more in the building of the characters of Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough but hey, the tracks were well oiled and Zach Galifianakis can use some lessons in reaction acting before going mano a mano with one of the biggest stars the world has ever seen, the aging, balding, on the edge of madness; Michael Keaton

Another great film by “Who gave this son of a bitch his Green Card?‘”;
I love Penn and his friendship with Iñárritu goes beyond the smoldering assault from mostly everyone on someone who has become anti-establishment but will never cease to be one of the greatest actors alive. 

A thing is a thing. No matter what you call it, it remains a thing.

– Quote pasted on Riggans vanity mirror

It took me time to get in a state of mind required to watch an Iñárritu film, but once I pressed play I just couldn’t help but feel the film, and the transformation of Riggins into the real deal, towards the cryptic, unresolved end made the hair stand on their end. 

Superb. Simply otherworldly.

On second thought, shouldn’t a guy who just blew his nose off because he has the worst aim ever be put under suicide watch and shouldn’t the window to the fourteenth floor be shut with cement and made of plexiglass. Shouldn’t that person be accompanied by an attendant or nurse everywhere, even to the commode? 

Or was that all in a bird costume?

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