Friday, October 31, 2014

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014)

Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr, and Armando Bo


Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 20, 2014  5:20PM


"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", the twisted, backstage comedy, handled deftly by co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, will be best remembered as the film that rightly put Michael Keaton back in to the spotlight as it displays his exceptional and undervalued abilities as an actor. He's been kicking around for a while, first breaking out in Ron Howard's initial box-office hit comedy, "Night Shift" in 1982 before moving on to film stardom with "Beetlejuice", "Mr.Mom" and the first two of Tim Burton's re-imagined "Batman" that helped usher in the cinematic era of the super-hero. He hasn't done much to note of late but Mr. Keaton delivers one of the finest performances of his career playing Riggan Thomson, a washed-up film actor who was once famous playing a masked crime fighter, Birdman. As he tries to rebuild his career with a Broadway-bound play he has written and plans to direct, an adaption of a Raymond Carver story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", Riggan is haunted by his past. The voice of Birdman keeps tormenting the actor, reminding him what a failure he has become and how doing this play is pointless. Keaton is completely in his element here as he is able to use both his comedic gifts and sharp dramatic skills.

During rehearsals, Riggan realizes that the lead actor hired is wrong but a stage mishap conveniently creates an opening for the role. Jake (Zach Galifianakis), a friend and producer of the show, suggests that Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) would be a perfect replacement and his name could even boost the box-office. Riggan agrees and with Mike dating fellow Hollywood star, Lesley (Naomi Watts), who just happens to be the female lead of the play, this rocky production might finally be turning a corner. However, Mike is a highly temperamental, egotistical method actor who sees no issue with drinking real gin on stage as it will only serve his performance. After Mike breaks character to reprimand Riggan for removing his booze during a preview, he wants him out. Jake reminds him that the show is now sold-out and they can't afford to lose this difficult actor.

If the play wasn't enough, Riggan has to contend with an actress (Andrea Riseborough) in the show he's been sleeping with who may be pregnant. He also wants to repair his damaged relationship with his sullen daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab. As an attempt to bring them closer together, Riggan has hired her as his assistant but this plan has made them grow even more distant. His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) has come to the opening of the play to lend support until she finds out what he's done to finance this dream project. And a New York Times critic (Lindsay Duncan) has promised to close the play with her poison pen, mainly because she resents the trend of movie stars coming to the theater and taking jobs away from real actors.

The truth is, Riggan isn't much different from Mike. He's a self-centered, manipulative jerk. He's also a talented thespian who has always, and continues to put his work first. This former action star is at a crossroads in his career as well as with his life. With the sound of Birdman growing louder in his ear and the pressures of the show mounting, Riggan begins to unravel, losing a grip on reality. No longer knowing where he begins and his costumed alter-ego ends, Riggan is convinced that he's using his super-powers to trash his dressing room in a fit of frustration or blissfully flying across the Manhattan skyline.

Iñárritu, after a series of thrilling but challenging Academy-Award nominated dramas including "Amores perros", "21 Grams" and "Babel", has decided to lighten up with "Birdman" as his first comedy, sort of. There is certainly some quirky humor to be found here but more serious moments involving anxiety, melancholy and fear is what actually drives the film. "Birdman" soars thanks to the impressive camerawork of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (who won the Oscar last year for "Gravity" and is sure to be nominated once again for his work here) as the film appears to be one continuous take. The camera follows tightly along as the actors travel throughout the majestic St. James Theater in New York, zips out in to the street and darts back inside.

The director has assembled a perfect cast, using these actors in ways we don't ordinarily see them. Norton is wild and hilarious with his runaway ego mowing down everyone in his path. Mr. Galifianakis, who came to fame with his over-the-top wackiness in "The Hangover" films, delivers a restrained performance that surprises with it's sincerity. Ms Stone abandons her sweet and sunny disposition while effectively snarling and seducing with raw passion.

With Iñárritu's inventive direction, "Birdman" takes flight as this offbeat satire examines the trappings of Hollywood fame that reduces sad and desperate people to behave quite badly. The highlight is the extraordinary work of Michael Keaton who is memorable as the tortured artist who just wants one more opportunity to prove to the world, and to himself, that he's able to create something of true value.