From the director of Amores Perros, 21 Grams & Babel, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s most distinct & daring film to date when compared to his previous works, and certainly the most ambitious one around on a technical scale. Having made a career out of portraying life in an extremely evocative manner, what Iñárritu brings here is another insight into human struggle but the raw, brutal & depressing outlook of life is replaced by an intensely refined satire as the master storyteller here aims to blur the lines between theatre & film as well as reality & fiction without breaking continuity and for the most part, he truly succeeds.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) follows a former Hollywood star way past his prime who’s best-known for playing a superhero in blockbuster movies decades earlier. Filled with grief & regret, constantly tormented by the voice of his most memorable character, and fearing that he’s a thing of the past who will soon be forgotten, he decides to take a leap of faith & risks his entire reputation in order to make a comeback which he plans to do by writing, directing & starring in the Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, hoping that its success will revitalise his career. But as the play approaches its premiere, his continuous struggle with his inner demons worsens.
Co-written, produced & directed by Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, Birdman is a huge leap for the renowned Mexican filmmaker as he completely reinvents his tone, style & method without discarding the themes that have been an integral part of his entire filmography. Screenplay takes a jab at all things Hollywood, tries to depict the constant struggle every celeb faces just to stay afloat in the never-ending race for stardom in this ever-changing industry, and doesn’t even spare the critics who never really have to risk as much as the cast & crew working on a production yet are held in higher regards but it is in the fluid execution of those moments where Birdman manages to make its biggest impression.
Emmanuel Lubezki has been steadily rising in the film industry as one of the best camera operators around & with Birdman, he adds another highly impressive feat to his résumé. Apart from its opening & closing moments, the entirety of Birdman is presented as one continuous long take for the camera keeps floating from one character to another & even manages to shift through time & different sets without breaking continuity. Working in perfect harmony with its spellbinding Cinematography is its cleverly executed Editing & seamlessly integrated digital effects which ends up adding even more authenticity to its single shot gimmick, while Antonio Sánchez’s score infuses a restless spirit to the story.
Coming to the acting department, the casting process is very carefully carried out & is a masterstroke in itself for many actors end up playing a self-aware version of themselves which makes their performances appear as some sort of meta-commentary. Iñárritu is one of those distinguished directors who’s capable of bringing out the best from his cast & his latest is no exception in that regard considering that performances are certainly one of its strongest aspects. Also, what Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler did for Mickey Rourke, Birdman ends up doing for Michael Keaton as the washed-up Hollywood star makes a stunning return to form with a performance that’s arguably the finest of his career.
Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson; a faded Hollywood actor famous for playing an iconic superhero who risks what’s left of his career on a play to regain his former glory. Brilliantly capturing his character’s fear, disbelief & struggle, Keaton delivers one of the strongest performances of the year that marks the beginning of his second innings. But he isn’t the only one as Edward Norton also chips in a performance we haven’t seen from the talented actor in a long time. Norton plays Mike; a method actor who’s very difficult to work with, which is once again self-referential. Emma Stone is in as Sam; Riggan’s daughter & assistant who’s a recovering addict struggling with her post-rehab life.
And the supporting cast is no slouch either even though their performances aren’t on the same level as either Keaton or Norton but it serves well to the film’s requirement. Zack Galifianakis plays Jake; Riggan’s lawyer & friend, and is incredibly grounded in his role. The ever-dependable Naomi Watts plays Lesley; a first-time Broadway actress & Mike’s former girlfriend. Andrea Riseborough chips in as Laura; Riggan’s girlfriend, while Amy Ryan plays Sylvia; Riggan’s ex-wife & Sam’s mother. And last but not the least, we have Lindsay Duncan playing Tabitha Dickinson; a top critic who plans to destroy Riggan’s play with a negative review & her scene with Keaton is my favourite moment.
On an overall scale, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s first foray into the comedy genre has more positives than negatives for Birdman is a technical marvel that’s highly ambitious, audacious & astonishing, and yet I can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by it. As far as self-parody goes, Birdman was sitting on a goldmine but the amount of wit present in the final picture ultimately falls short of what I expected from it for it certainly was capable of doing so much more with its self-referential characters, the theatre vs film & art vs commerce argument, and its bashing of critics. Unfortunately in the end, the most memorable thing about Birdman isn’t its story, direction, script or stellar performances but the one-shot gimmick itself. Nevertheless, Iñárritu’s latest comes recommended.