Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2015) Review:

Birdman, or (how to make a good, strange film).

“The back of your head looks ugly!” That’s probably what he’s saying.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Runtime: 119 minutes

Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifiankis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, et al…

Plot (taken from IMDb): A washed-up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of his Broadway play.

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) immediately drops you into the action, introducing you to the characters straight away, and the plot – that this is about a disenfranchised actor, Riggan (Michael Keaton) only known for his previously successful superhero movies and character, Birdman, who wants to become known for something more than a superhero. If you think this sounds like Michael Keaton’s own career, Birdman kinda plays like that as it is filled with jokes about the industry and acting.

It is also instantly notable of Birdman that it is a technical masterpiece. Birdman was shot and edited to make the film look as if it is one continuous shot – it’s a spectacular technique that adds a great amount of movement and energy to what could’ve otherwise been a stale, lifeless movie stuck up its own arse with its message about overcoming depression.

A good portion of the film is set in his dressing room.
A good portion of the film is set in his dressing room.

Indeed, Birdman is a film about depression, personal demons and overcoming them both, it’s a pertinent message sure, but one we’ve seen a thousand times. Birdman escapes the pitfalls largely by having a mostly strong script, filled with good humour and dialogue, set beside a plot that allows dramatic freedom for its actors. However, elevating this film required something truly special and it got it through Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. The rapport between the two actors throughout is incredible and both possess the ability to elevate the film from its duller moments.

The stand-out moments however come when the titular Birdman is on screen, a somewhat ghostly apparition that is still in control of Riggan, taunting him, telling him how stupid he is. It’s a fantastic effect and seeing Michael Keaton converse with himself as a superhero is great fun, and indeed, very funny. Unlike the adverts seem to suggest however, the moments with Birdman are few and far between, making it so you are waiting for these scenes to arrive as they are outstanding.

Fighting in the traditional style: topless.
Fighting in the traditional style: topless.

This is a film that is full of dialogue, more than many other films – it is no action film – so some people may find it too boring as not much exciting happens until the final third of the movie. An issue throughout is Emma Stone, her character is there to try and teach Riggan how to deal with his own life, running as a kind of concurrent narrative (meant to help each other). However, I feel like Birdman would’ve been better off without her.

Ultimately I don’t feel that Emma Stone adds anything positive to the film as far as the plot goes; all she does in my mind is take up screen time, adding unnecessary length to proceedings. This may sound a little harsh and I may be on my own with this, but I do think Birdman would be instantly more watchable if it were shorter – and a key to that would be removing Emma Stone’s character, or at least reducing the role to something more minor.

The sticking point in question.
The sticking point in question.

However, Birdman at its best is impressive; funny, greatly directed and acted like the actors actually care about their characters. But it lacks something, something that would make me rush out and buy the film on Blu-Ray to watch again – perhaps it is too strange. Indeed, the one word I could use to describe Birdman despite its great script, acting and fantastically realised cinematography, is strange. Who knows though, the quality is certainly there, so you could adore this film no end.

Summary:

Birdman is a little too long and a little too strange to be fully recommendable, but I commend it for its script, acting, effects and cinematography. This is technically an incredible film, almost flawless in its delivery, but it isn’t something you’d want to watch more than once despite its magnificence.

Birdman is effortlessly outstanding in its cinematography and acting, but it all comes off a little too strange and long. Not for everyone.

83/100

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