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Peacemaker Reviews - "Birdman"

The Movie Hole

Peacemaker Reviews - "Birdman"

JJ Mortimer

There is so much I want to say about this magnificent and unique film, but I decided to keep the review relatively short for the sake of simply selling you on the fact that you really should watch this movie.

Birdman is both highly entertaining and meaningful without crossing the line into pretentiousness.  An often-funny technical wonder from a filmmaking perspective. director Alejandro Inarritu tells the story of former Hollywood superstar Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who battles both his ego and his family matters in the days leading up to the premiere of his Broadway play.  Amidst his internal dramatic turmoil, Thomson has an almost Beautiful Mind-level alter ego (mostly in voice, but often in the visual form of his Birdman cinematic superhero persona) that speaks to him like a testosterone-fueled madman, pushing the limits of his psyche and questioning his place in the world of declining celebrity.

The movie actually has two titles - Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.  What's interesting is that the film (at least from my perspective) also exists on two different wavelengths, an underlying theme that required me to reflect upon and wait at least one day before writing this review (hindsight often shows you the mental treasures of the visual delight).  The first notion is the world Riggan wants - a return to his former Birdman action-extravaganza blockbuster glory.  But the reality is the current dark, depressing, stage play adaptation version that IS talky, introspective, and thought-provoking - The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.

On top of the acting being phenomenal, a note must be made about the unbelievably precise camera work done by the great cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, whose work in this film closely resembles that of his Oscar nominated work in both Alfonso Cuaron-directed masterpieces, Children of Men and Gravity.  Like those other two films, but on a much more grand level, Birdman employs a masterful use of extended, unbroken takes that are seamlessly edited together to make the film feel as though it is one long, perfectly-blocked and timed single scene.  While the film does in fact employ opticals to smooth the effect of film cuts to give the impression of continuity, director Inarritu and cinematographer Lubezki rigorously rehearsed the long scenes to make for a truly unique film experience of impressive craftsmanship.  All the actors and actresses are at the top of their game, and much like the editing of the film itself, the performers are able to progress straight from film acting to stage acting in a single beat, making the audience truly feel as though they are watching actors "be" and actors "act".  As I said - it's unique.

The ending of the film itself (one with which I will not spoil) actually feels like a rip on the current state of Hollywood blockbusters - the notion that a dark, dreary ending is disastrous to the box office on the feeble, frail minds of the mass audiences who won't understand the substance under beyond surface value.  Like L.A. Confidential before it, Birdman simply ends twice - once as the dark, Unexpected version, and again as the more upbeat Birdman version that the audience wants.  Whether one or the other is truly the ending (or existing in a particular character's head) is up to your interpretation.

As Riggan's alter-ego says, "People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit."   The movie begs the question, "Do we want brooding, talkative dramas or bombastic action extravaganzas?"  The answer is both.  The fact that the film has two titles lays distinction to the above statement and to the themes and subtle messages left by writer/director Alejandro Inarritu.

As much as I recommend this film for its unique style and phenomenal acting from the entire cast (especially Keaton in a career-defining role, and Edward Norton in a sort-of parody on his well-known real life status as a difficult actor to work with on film sets), It is definitely not a film for everyone.  I know many people will find the unique experience of Birdman to be too "odd" for their tastes.  It just so happens that Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is right up my alley, especially as a Michael Keaton fan and a fan of great performances and film making craftsmanship.