Ramble heavy (also misusage of the word “esoteric”) audio review here: goo.gl/OUKm5X
What an ambitious dark comedy this is. So many layers and aspects of the filmmaking at hand have so much to say and show, and it all works quite strongly. Save for a minor juggling issue in terms of balancing character observation and plot progression, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is as unique of a film as I’ve seen in a theater in quite a long time, in terms of its tone, how it’s made, and the fantastic performances and direction at hand.
The film has a technical streak it sets up for itself that is so stylistically interesting and yet contextually fitting, and is so well executed by everyone involved. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is as flawless as ever, mixed with stark and pitch-perfect editing, great set design, and special effects (that aren’t 100% but work) make for a visual marvel. The story captured by this visually stirring and evocative choice of capturing 90% of the film in a simulated single take reaches as high as the style and themes at hand.
Director Alejandro G. Inarritu carries his entirely on-point cast throughout a roller coaster of an ensemble piece, that is complex, but also battles with being a singular character study on Michael Keaton, who carries the film, within the actual cinematic language being played with, on his back with his strong performance. All the characters we meet as part of protagonist Riggan Thomson’s production are so strange, complex, and worth exploring, which we do! At least for 2/3rds of the film. Edward Norton’s scumbag method actor goes through an interesting, yet unfulfilled by the end arc, alongside Naomi Watts in a really heartbreaking performance. Zach Galifiankis kills it not only as relief, but as a genuine performer and key player in the story. Emma Stone, though saddled with some cringe-worthy dialogue, delivers an emotionally thick performance. Everyone here is firing on all cylinders, working with screwball-like, quick witted, yet really well written (for the most part) dialogue and plot progression. My one true wish was that there was more of these characters.
The plot of Birdman, as being captured by Lubezki’s wandering camera, switches between following these ensemble characters and exploring their machinations and personalities as they collide and simmer, and simply following Riggan as he goes through an existential crisis and breakdown. Both of which are incredibly fascinating and well executed for their screen time. Michael Keaton’s performance is so heartbreaking, bare, funny, and complex underneath a completely understandable dramatic motivation. The pathos delivered is lifted from the page and transformed into something really special and praise-worthy. Plus, it’s a damn funny and bold performance on certain levels, of which I will not spoil. The film starts to focus entirely on Riggan near the latter half of the film which is completely fine, because that makes for a really good film… but so does this Boogie Nights-but-in-Broadway ensemble dark dramedy. We’re introduced to such interesting personalities and not all of them are followed through to the end, which is somewhat of a disappointment, even if what we’re treated to instead is also very, very good. What’s more is that the film is so good at what it does, that I could watch it for so much longer than its run time. It deserves to have more time to explore the ground it covers. But it’s best not to think of “what could’ve been”, and instead of what is already here, of which is great on its own.
The film explores a plethora of issues and themes, from modern media, to fame and relevancy, to talent and art, to storytelling, to family and obligation, to dreams, to motivations, to addiction, and on and on and on. It sets up really big shoes to fill for itself. Inarritu’s film can’t fill the whole shoe, but how it wears it, with what it’s got to offer, explore, and boldly state, is ferocious and with artistic vigor. He has so much he wants to touch upon, and every single tent-pole of discussion and observation makes a really strong case for his voice and vision as a filmmaker. The teamwork at hand in the craft of filmmaking is so well orchestrated by Inarritu, and he should be lauded for pulling off the magic trick that is this movie.
Birdman’s drum-based score is sloppy, complex, and constantly searching for a new rhythm, similar to Lubezki’s camera changing focus from character to character. Though it ends up feeling like there are two movies at its core, one of which is jarringly approached and dropped at a moment’s notice, the film it does end up being is great and unique. It’s a film worth exploring, seeing multiple times due to how complex it is on many levels, and ultimately, worth plainly enjoying for how good it is. Stylistically, humor-wise, performance-wise: Birdman’s got so much quality filmmaking and storytelling to offer. It should deservedly go down as one of the more memorable and talked about films of 2014, and of the careers of everyone involved in making this truly ambitious project.