Birdman, or to give it its full title, “Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)“, stars Michael Keaton as has-been actor Riggan Thompson, whose glory days are behind him, hence the rather self-referential aspect to the story because Keaton, himself, hasn’t headlined a major film for some time, and most recently, his performances in both Need For Speed and the RoboCop reboot were entirely forgettable.
Riggan Thompson is also best known for playing superhero Birdman, but the fact he hasn’t entertained a new movie featuring that character since 1992 reminds the audience of when Keaton played Batman in two films, the last one being 1992’s Batman Returns.
So, is Riggan trying to get back on the Hollywood map with a new Birdman film? No, instead he’s aiming for critical recognition by directing and starring in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, something which is hit and miss for a number of reasons which I’ll leave you to discover, but after the original actor for one part is left capacitated by an accident on-set, he’s replaced by Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who’s both a cure and a curse – a cure because he’s a fantastic actor with a photographic memory for the lines, but a curse because he can be unpredictable at times and also reminds Riggan of a time when he used to be young, successful and popular.
All the while through, Riggan is haunted by his inner conscience, pointing out to him where he’s gone wrong in life, or at least that’s how it initially seems…
Kudos cast-wise go to Keaton, Norton and Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s put-upon manager and best friend Jake. Emma Stone is also good as Riggan’s daughter Sam, as well as being exceedingly hot, but I wouldn’t have said she was Oscar nomination-worthy for this – in fact, she doesn’t seem to be in it as much as one would expect for someone to get such a nomination. Also worth a mention are Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha, the harshest theatre critic in the whole of the USA, and Amy Ryan as Keaton’s ex-wife, and Stone’s mother, Sylvia. Ryan’s probably best known for Officer Beatrice ‘Beadie’ Russell in The Wire, and when she’s onscreen here, you just want to put her in your pocket and take her home…. just me then? 😉
Birdman is also a surprising technical marvel in that it gives the impression that the entire film was shot in a single take. Obviously it wasn’t, and there’s the occasional join you can spot, such as when someone walks through a door to go inside or outside and the screen goes pitch black for a split-second. There’s also one such break when time passes between characters talking and then it suddenly being the evening performance for one of the play’s previews – that one’s less easy to spot for the join, however. It also makes the “film about a play” aspect feel like you’re watching a play, too.
Technical feats aside, there are still occasional moments when there is some muffled dialogue. You could argue that there’s a wealth of dialogue here, and that a lot of it is spoken quickly so you won’t pick up on every last word, but there are also times when, if you’re like me, you miss certain parts of dialogue because you’re too busy working out how some shots were done with the whole-film-in-one-take pretence.
Approach Birdman as a drama with elements of comedy within, rather than the other way round, and if you’re into all the technical side of things regarding film, then you’ll enjoy it all the more.
P.S. There was a weird moment (or 20-30 mins), at the Odeon, Trafford Centre, when the projector failed to start. I was about to go out and find out what was happening, thinking it might’ve been moved to another screen, but then another couple of punters came in and I checked with them that we were all there to see Birdman. I gave it a few more minutes, and was about to go out then, but then a guy came in to explain what was happening. Turns out they had to give the projector a cold reboot, but they’d skip the ads and trailers so the film didn’t start much later than originally planned. Problems happen, so that’s fair enough that they skipped the fluff at the start – in fact, a blank screen was preferable during that time. As a nice plus, though, the guy came back at the end to give us each a free ticket for next time. Yay! 🙂
Also, like Into The Storm, and although it was showing in a different screen (7), I again sat very close to the screen. The auditorium was split into two sets of seats and I was sat at the back of the front set – so, about 6 rows from the screen. This meant it was very in-your-face and I wondered if it was a bit unwise to do so, but as it was another film presented in 1.85:1, it still worked, especially given the “continuous take” style. For a 2.35:1 film, that would require a lot of neck-turning, so I would sit further back for those.
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Released: January 1st 2015
Director: Alejandro G Iñárritu
Producers: Alejandro G Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W Skotchdopole
Screenplay: Alejandro G Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Music: Antonio Sanchez
Riggan Thompson: Michael Keaton
Sam: Emma Stone
Mike Shiner: Edward Norton
Jake: Zach Galifianakis
Lesley: Naomi Watts
Laura: Andrea Riseborough
Sylvia: Amy Ryan
Daniel (Stagehand): Jamahl Garrison-Lowe
Ralph: Jeremy Shamos
Costume Assistant: Katherine O’Sullivan
Gabriel: Damian Young
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.