The art of the cinema can be a unique beast that allows for some pretty interesting stuff that not everyone will be able to embrace. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a highly stylized satirical look at the trappings of fame that makes for a slick cinematic ride but will alienate some audiences as it is occasionally too slick for its own good.
You just can’t be a superhero forever in Hollywood. When Riggan (Michael Keaton) takes the bold step to trod the boards of Broadway and mount a play the he wrote, directed and is starring in an attempt to revive his sagging career he forced to confront more than he ever imagined. In the days leading up to opening night, he has to struggle with his ego, the egos of everyone around him, get his family back in his life and convince himself that everything he is doing still actually matters before the curtain rises on what might be his last shot at being remembered as something more than a character on screen.
From director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu we get a sharp, sly and self deprecatingly funny look at the cult of celebrity that is at times brilliant thanks to some great performances and at other times a little too smart for its own good.
A stunning and brilliantly shot affair, Iñárritu and cinematographer of Emmanuel Lubezki create a labyrinth of tension and emotion inside a Broadway theatre as an epic power struggle that only means anything to the people involved plays out on stage. Through a variety of visual cheats the bulk of the film is played out in what is seemingly one continuous shot and it plays all the better for it as this character driven dialogue feels almost operatic at times. While sharp and funny and very in the know for any fans of the inner works of not only the theatre but of fame itself, the film walks a very narrow tightrope between something that is cutting edge and something that runs a very real risk of alienating its audiences with a tone that if you aren’t 100% in the know that can come off as more than a little condescending as it screams for a return to their art of acting and character driven storytelling that it feels is lost in modern day Hollywood. Thankfully a leading performance for the ages gets turned in to the point that any unpleasant shifts in tone get left by the way side as at the end of the day, no matter how pretty this movie looks it is a character laden dream for any actor to tackle.
Michael Keaton gets borderline meta with his performance as Riggan as he quite literally tears down dome of the own choices that he has made throughout his career in this role. It is a career defining moment as lays himself and the structure of fame as bare as he can possibly can showing as the defining and ego and insecurity that are all involved with not only be an actor but dealing with the realities of being a star. The ensemble cast is littered with strong players as Edward Norton as the preening Broadway specialist almost steals the show as some of his interactions with Keaton are downright scary because they are just so damn good. Emma Stone shines as Keaton’s daughter, Naomi Watts and Andrea Risebourough are fantastic as the neurotic actress is looking for their own moment to shine in a world of male driven egos while Zach Galifanakis is hilarious as his agent. Amy Ryan as his wife and Lindsay Duncan as the critic that they are all terrified of manage to deliver as well in the few scenes that they got on screen.
Much in parallel to some of the issues that it is trying to get across, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” makes sure that every single word and moment are gripping and electric from beginning to end, but with a smug self awareness of how great and above other things being released today it is, the movie ends up knocking itself down just a peg as there is always something to be appreciated about a certain degree of subtlety (or dare I say ignorance) to this art form, that most audiences don’t have the stomach for, especially when they just want to be entertained.
4 out of 5 stars.
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is now playing exclusively at the Varsity Cinemas here in downtown Toronto before it expands across the country.