November 19, 2014

Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Movie Review

Is the virality of pop culture getting out of hand? Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) provides deep thought and theory on the fast-paced, entertainment world.

It's overwhelming, but nice when every idea of a film floats on the surface. Instead of digging through the story and searching for the meaning the director is conveying, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu throws it all at your face. There's no subtlety. This is what makes Birdman amazing and a bit tedious.

The film describes washed-up Hollywood actor turned Broadway director-writer-actor, Riggan Thomson's (Michael Keaton) mental breakdown. Keaton delivers the most powerful performance of his career. Thomson must fight off his ego, family troubles, and rival fellow Broadway actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Norton steals each scene he's in. Playing an actor who believes that the stage is the only reality, Norton gives insight into an actor's haunted ego.

The St. James Broadway theater is the setting for most of the film. Inarritu's direction and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's camera work create a dizzy claustrophobia within the hallways and dressing rooms. Even the actors get uncomfortably close to each other. There's obvious spacial restrictions while filming in an actual theater, but Lubezki's spot-on camerawork creates depth, realism and efficiency. One noticeable brilliant feat is the restless one-shot throughout the entire film. With editing magic Inarritu makes the film seem like one continuous shot. It helps create a slight uneasy edge for the film. You might even feel like having a mental breakdown with Thomson.  

While the dialogue is witty, on point, and neigh orgasmic to the ear, it beats you endlessly over the head with concepts and ideas of American pop culture. Thomson is only washed up because he once played an iconic superhero in a megamillion dollar franchise. There are scenes set up where characters just talk about the crumbling world of American entertainment. They speak of the the virality and 15 minutes of fame that Americans live in. The only concept that the director hides within the film is the idea of popularizing entertainment due to an actor's death. Is this a world where actors have to die young for their work to be remembered and acclaimed?

Birdman tackles heavy subject matter every opportunity it gets. It becomes mind numbing. Keaton and Norton deliver essential Oscar worthy performances, while Inarritu and Lubezki bring a jolt of creativity with continuous shots and cramped, dizzying camera work. Birdman might be the best parable of American cinema, even if it's too on-the-nose.  

Good Qualities: The performances, the dialogue, the cinematography.
Bad Qualities: A constant barrage of commentary and philosophy on a person's ego and a culture so obsessed with virality.

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