Once again, I’m super late to an Oscar winner. BIRDMAN, obviously, comes with a significant amount of buzz. But I managed to come to it without knowing anything except the fact that Michael Keaton plays an actor who used to be a super hero (with all of the comparisons that understandably invites). So I really did start this movie with no idea what I was in for.


I watched BIRDMAN: OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORNACE) (2014) on 8.7.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directed and cowrote this film, and his name is probably the first one that should be in any review. This is a bold movie shot in as few takes as possible – even as time jumps. There are plenty of movies, most famously Hitchcock’s ROPE, which utilize the ‘single take’ gimmick. There are none I can think of which do so while also jumping time without any clear indication other than what we know of the characters and situations.

This works amazingly well, particularly with the Broadway setting for this film. Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an actor who once played a super hero twenty years ago – Birdman (who serves as a voice in Riggan’s head) – and he has invested everything he has in adapting, directing, and starring in a Broadway play as he searches for legitimacy. He replaces a bad actor with Mike (Ed Norton) at the last second, not knowing how volatile a personality he is bringing on. Meanwhile, his recently rehab recovered daughter (Emma Stone) is serving as his assistant while he constantly deals with both positive and negative outbursts from his friend and agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis).


At its core, BIRDMAN is about eccentric artists putting on a play. Most everyone in it is likable in some way, even if they make some really poor decisions. The movie certainly focuses on the two male leads of its play, though the two female counterparts (Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough) are solid actresses who bring much weight to their parts. Indeed, everyone in this is very, very good. This may be one of Emma Stone’s best performances, even if it is not her most endearing. Ed Norton plays this like this is Seth Rogen’s THIS IS THE END: he is playing a heightened version of his perceived persona. He is a difficult diva, but one who is always right even as he is being insufferable. Michael Keaton, though, really does nail this role. He is, in turns, eccentric and vulnerable. He brings a solid presence and a deep knowing to the part, even if Keaton insists that this is a character further from himself than he has ever played.

This was one of those movies that some people adored and some people loathed. That seems destined to happen in any movie that is so particularly about art and the making of art and the egos inherent in the making of art. But BIRDMAN is not a pretentious movie. It laughs at its own absurdities. This is a movie in the genre of magical realism. The movie opens with Keaton floating in air. He blows stuff up by looking at it. He flies. But we also learn – in a wonderful moment with a taxi cab in a shot in which the camera literally stays as grounded as possible – the magical stuff we see has another explanation.

This is a really good film. The performances and the timeline are worth a revisit, for sure. And the editor must have had a fun job, even if the nature of shooting this in order probably made it an usually EASY editing job. Anyway, BIRDMAN is good. I’m on the side of the divide that admires it.




FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on August 10, 2015.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks BIRDMAN: OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORNACE) (2014)”

  1. You’re not the only one late to the BIRDMAN game – I still haven’t seen it! It’s on HBO GO right now though so finally, finally. I’m thinking I’ll be on the LIKE side so *fingers crossed*.

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