Birdman – Movie Review
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – R
Release Date: Fri 02 Jan 2015
Birdman set box office records during a very limited early release. The premise matched with the stellar cast makes it easy to understand why. You have a group of great actors, several of whom have been in superhero movies, in a movie about a washed-up actor whose really still best known for playing Birdman.
What sets Birdman apart is the technical feat of making the entire film appear as if it was recorded in a single shot. While this isn’t actually the case (there are clever cuts and edits), there are long stretches where the actors have to get it all right in a long take. There’s no mid-scene cutting and if both actors aren’t in the frame, you don’t see the other actor until they return or the camera moves. The technical magic of making the camera move so well and dance through the scenes makes it impossible to look away from the screen. It also makes the performances feel more like a stage play than a movie. They feel organic, imperfect, raw and real.
Michael Keaton plays Riggan, trying to reclaim his dignity as an actor by staging a play he adapted and directs. Edward Norton’s Mike shows up to take over the other male role in the play after the original actor is injured. Mike is a far better actor, but also a tremendously difficult one to work with. This plays to Norton’s reputation for being difficult to work with. Emma Stone plays Riggan’s daughter Sam who is helping her dad and trying to put her own life back together after a stint in rehab. Stone has a couple of fantastic scenes – some of her best yet – and even so, she’s also a superhero movie actress having played Gwen Stacy in the rebooted Spider-Man series.
While the trailer plays up the special effects and Riggan’s alterego of Birdman, this plays a much smaller role in the film. The voice is often there in his head, but the crazy CG scenes are limited to making a direct statement to the audience, daring us to prefer mindless action to all the dialogue. It makes an excellent point as the trailer kind of makes you expect lots of silly effects sequences rather than a couple of scenes that straight up make fun of you for liking that sort of fare.
I deeply enjoyed Birdman and would gladly watch it again and recommend it to anyone mature enough for the R rating.
Hannah, John M. and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion afterward in the car: