Time to Remember
In the movie Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed up former movie star famous for playing Birdman (insert Batman reference here ) and suffered severe career freefall in its wake, who is trying to regain artistic relevance by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play. Haunted by the ghosts of his past choices (literally and figuratively with the gravelly voice and appearance of his Birdman alter ego hovering over his shoulder) , he desperately grasps at reality in the last few days before his show opens. He is surrounded by needy actresses (Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough), his best friend/lawyer (Zach Galifinakis in an uncharacteristically subdued and naturalistic role), his fresh from rehab daughter/assistant (Emma Stone, radiant and fresh scrubbed face free of makeup and affectation in a standout performance), and the (Literally) cocky, egocentric wonder boy of Broadway Mike Shiner (Edward Norton who also seems to be lampooning his reported micro-managing script doctoring ways -see True Believer ).
Keaton does some of his career best work in a vanity free performance (In sharp closeups you can see the roadmap of age that riddles his face and I thought it was interesting to show him taking off the lace front wigs to reveal his sparse hair underneath, underscoring the un-reality of everything) that is matched pound for pound in the talented peacocking of Nortons character. It was thrilling to watch them verbally spar, representing two distinctly different schools of acting. One wonders if in the end Riggan finally saw the light of Shiners quest for "truth" onstage yet is ultimately overwhelmed and succumbed to it. The ending is vague- were the fantastical elements real or was this just a period of time refracted through the gaze of madness- but the ambiguity didn't bother me. Maybe that is the unexpected virtue of ignorance. I just know I enjoyed the ride.
And what a ride it was! Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the percussive score by Antonio Sanchez , has crafted a kinetic film propelled through one extended shot with an arrhythmic jazz score that keeps the energy flowing in this surreal black comedy that left me breathless in its wake. A meditation on art versus commerce, regrets (in life choices as well as career), the folly of art critics, and redemption, this is virtuoso filmmaking by an exciting director with a superlative cast. The anti-superhero movie that questions the decision of artists for selling out and finding out if what is then lost can ever be regained. What is lost is integrity. And maybe even your soul.
Heady stuff for a film called Birdman.
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