Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an American black comedy about a former Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who is writing, starring and directing in a Broadway play adapted from Raymond Carvers ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. Birdman was co-written, directed and produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director of Babel and Buitiful (I don’t think there is an intentional trend of making films that start with ‘B’).
Michael Keaton gives a stunning performance as Riggan Thomson, well worthy of the multiple awards nominations he has received so far. The mix of crazy washed up actor, as he hallucinates the voice of Birdman (also played by Keaton) and serious Broadway actor are portrayed perfectly. There are so many highlights in his whole performance it is hard to pin down one. What makes the film better, is the supporting cast. Emma Stone as Sam, Riggan’s daughter is haunting as she is a recovering drug addict and the actors assistant. When she yells at him he does not matter it feels like a wake up call to how actors perceive themselves.
Rounding out the rest of this stellar cast are Edward Norton, playing a method actor who is a later addition to the plays cast and causes conflict with Riggan, with much hilarity. Zach Galifianakis plays Riggan’s friend, lawyer and co-producer of the play and is very different to the usual crazy comedy performances, almost acting as the straight man to Michael Keaton’s erratic Riggan. Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough are the other two actresses in starring with Riggan in the play, Watts as the first time being on Broadway. The cast have great chemistry between them and provide many hilarious moments in the continuous shot.
That is what is most intriguing about Birdman; the cinematography. Practically from the start of the film to the last few minutes, it appears to be one single take. Careful editing and camera trickery is used to create this illusion. This technique makes the film feel like real time, showing the backstage, behind the scenes of a theatre production.
Another stand out aspect of the film is the music. Antonio Sanchez is the composer and provides an excellent drum score – jazz style – that is almost constant throughout the film, building up and slowing down at various times. The music is unique and very fitting to this film – it is hard to think what other style of music could have been used.
Birdman is wonderfully weird, and is filled with brilliant scenes from beginning to end, starting off with Riggan levitating in his dressing room before rehearsals. See this film if you have not already.