Review - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), R, 119 minutes - I've been looking forward to this film for just about a year now, ever since learning that Michael Keaton would be starring in the latest project from director Alejandro González Iñárritu.  Since its initial release a month ago I have been waiting not-so-patiently for a) it to come to my local art house theater and b) a little break in the long list of things we've been trying to get done in the new house.  Thanks to a technical difficulty last week that wiped out this review once, I'm finally able to get my thoughts down 'on paper' so to speak.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a washed up actor whose claim to fame was starring in a superhero franchise twenty years ago.  He's working on writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway show that he hopes will show the world that he still has the drawing power he had in his prime.  Getting the show ready proves to be quite a struggle with Riggan juggling his ego, a co-star rivalry, and legal, financial and familial issues as opening night approaches.

There may be a man in a costume, but Birdman is not your typical superhero film.  In reality it isn't a superhero film in the way that we've come to know them at all.  The Birdman character is an important aspect of Riggan's history and his psyche, but this film is about who and what Riggan is now.  Keaton is the perfect fit for this role and is quite possibly the only actor on the planet properly equipped to tackle this character, having virtually lived a version of the life illustrated in this film (one can only hope that he didn't actually go through the same hardships) having starred in both the groundbreaking Batman (1989) and its sequel Batman Returns (1992).  The rest of the cast is also excellent and is comprised primarily of Edward Norton (Mike, the co-star and rival), Emma Stone (Sam, the daughter), Zach Galifianakis (Jake, the manager), Naomi Watts (Lesley, the co-star), Andrea Riseborough (Laura, the girlfriend), and Amy Ryan (Sylvia, the ex-wife).  It wouldn't be surprising at all if Keaton and maybe even González Iñárritu or Norton snag Oscar nominations for this film.  All made excellent contributions to a film that is easily one of the best that I've seen this year.

The way this film is shot is incredible, utilizing a first person, hand held technique that smoothly pans between characters and conversations and follows them throughout the theater and city streets for the entirety of the film.  The cinematography and editing are stars in their own right, presenting this film in what appears to be only a handful of takes.

Birdman has been out for about a month now, but appears to be primarily showing in smaller theaters (unless you live in a larger city), so it still may not be that easy to find.  If you enjoy smaller, critically acclaimed films or are a fan of Michael Keaton, be sure to try and track down this film.  It was well worth the wait and I'm glad I was able to fit it into our crazy, settling-into-the-new-house schedule.

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