Alejandro González Iñárritu, more than most, knows how to put a camera to good use. His technique, along with his ability to weave together a great story, are combined here for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) to make a film well worth your while. The film has a lot to offer and is so well-done and told in a way where you’ll start to wonder if what you’re seeing is really happening. Iñárritu’s film is a visual and narrative art.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor hanging by the end of his rope. His career is down the drain, his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), out of rehab and bitter for being his personal assistant, among many other things, doesn’t get along with him, and his last big movie was Birdman 3, where he played a masked superhero who looked like a giant bird (obviously). So all in all, his life is pretty crappy. But unwillingly to just throw in the towel, he’s decided to take on Broadway (in a show he ambitiously writes, directs, and stars in) in a last attempt to get his career going again.

Birdman is one of those films you immediately love on the first viewing, but ultimately requires several viewings to take in all that is given to us. There are just so many layers to it. Aside from all that is going on with Keaton’s character, there are several emerging plotlines, characters, and themes that it’s impossible to completely figure everything out in one sitting.

In short, the film is a work of true art. The cinematography is fantastic, right down to the technicalities in editing that make several hallway scenes look like they are taken in one shot. The camera work is wonderful as well. A lot of the film takes place inside the theater and the camera work, especially during the small backstage scenes where the camera pans to make it as though someone is following closely behind the actors, is truly a visual feast for the eyes.

Birdman, in its simplest form, is the whole package. It’s what critics can refer back to when they talk about a fantastically made film. Between the lighting, sound, editing, and overall cinematography, the film surpasses expectations. The technical stuff is so good that one can easily forget that there’s also supposed to be a great story to go alongside it to complete the package. And there most definitely is. With one vision for the film and narrative, you can’t even tell that it was penned by four screenwriters.

The film follows a man who is depressed, fighting to stay relevant, and is losing his battle with patience. Every other character only adds more to how we see him, but at the same time they’ve all got their own things going on. We even get the different stages to an actor’s career. We have Keaton, who has had his day but is mostly out of the limelight, Lesley (Naomi Watts), a Broadway actress getting her first big break, and Mike (Edward Norton), an actor in the prime of his career in theater and lapping up every bit of attention.

The film showcases its actors and follows its narrative without shying away into the land of distractions. Every scene means something, every conversation that is had moves the story towards the climax and the finale. It’s extremely focused and, in a sense, it’s almost a bit trippy (in a good way) in its execution. The lead up to the finale makes sense and isn’t contrived, and even the end and certain other events in the film will leave you guessing.

Keaton, who ironically played a superhero way back when (he played Batman on the big screen long before Christian Bale took over the cowl) has gotten his career back into tip top shape recently. And whether the reason to cast him is partially because his own career reflects that of his character in certain respects isn’t clear, but the fact that he gives an excellent performance can be generally agreed upon.

Edward Norton lays it on thick as the asshole Broadway talent who misunderstands everything except acting. He lives up on the stage and no one can tell him that he isn’t good at what he does because he knows it’s the only thing he does well. He and Keaton butt heads throughout the film and a lot of their interactions are some of the best.

Emma Stone does well in her role as the post-rehab woman who doesn’t anything together, but is still there to throw reality in her father’s face. Zach Galifianakis impresses in a role that shies away from “the funny man” label and Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough provide a solid supporting cast.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has a long title to swallow, but it’s filmmaking at its best. Every element of the film is well done, every actor’s performance wonderful, and the ending is a head turner that will leave you a bit dizzy trying to come up with your own interpretation. Iñárritu has given us a well executed film that also gives a lot to think about and will take a couple of viewings to try and sort it all out. The evolving characters and conversations are equally as important as the technical aspects. A film well-deserving of its accolades.

Release Date: October 24, 2014 | Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu | Screenwriters: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo | Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan | Genre: Drama | MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual content, and brief violence
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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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