Full of win. So this is about an aging, washed-up former comic strip actor (Michael Keaton) who used to play the renowned Birdman back in his heyday. He’s trying to do something relevant with his career by adapting, directing and starring in a production of “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”, but circumstances such as difficult actors to work with, a faltering relationship with his daughter and his antagonizing alter ego are sure to make things as difficult as possible. This was easily the movie I was most anticipating this Oscar season; the trailer was brilliantly cut and one that I watched a countless number of times, everything about it appealed to my sensibilities as a moviegoer, and this boasts a cast that you can get excited about. Then, I learned about a technical element that made me made me get exponentially more pumped up: this movie is filmed to create the illusion that it is all one shot. A tracking shot that lasts longer than a few minutes is difficult enough to choreograph, imagine the hurdles they faced doing that for an entire 2 hour movie, or at least creating that illusion that it was done in one take. To the extent of my knowledge, this has only been executed twice previously, with Russian Ark and Rope. Still haven’t seen Russian Ark yet (but I will eventually, as it’s on the 1,001 list), and if I am understanding correctly, it is the only one that legitimately accomplishes the feat in one shot. Rope, on the other hand, does it by masking the cuts at appropriate moments when they are the least noticeable, which is what Birdman does as well, only without awkwardly crash cutting into the back of somebody’s sport jacket.
You may label this a gimmick, but the fact of the matter is that this is a technique that works, and because of this innovative tactic, it makes for a much more immersive experience. You don’t want to take your eyes off the screen because after five minutes, you’ve already realized that you are watching something special, and you can’t wait to see what will happen next. Apart from being a technical marvel, this is just a very enjoyable film and a treat to watch. One thing that you may not anticipate is how funny it is; it is unexpectedly hilarious, and while there is many a moment of hard hitting drama, it is perfectly paced with comedic timing to break the ice on any tense moment.
There is totally an additional layer added here when you add the fact that Keaton used to play Batman in 1989 and 1992, and if there is a word that I would use to describe this movie, that word would be relevant. We are at the height of the superhero craze, and from a logical standpoint, this makes so much sense for not only Keaton, but for what a number of actors may be doing 20 years down the pipeline. He does an amazing job, really putting himself into this character with no boundaries; he could have easily turned down this role and been above it all, but instead he delivers a performance that rings incredibly honest. And the supporting cast is nothing short of stellar; Emma Stone has a electrifying monologue that will give you chills, Edward Norton is the best he’s been since Fight Club, and Zach Galifianakis delivers the performance of his career so far.
This also plays very well if you have a background in theatre, which I happen to have, with the most coincidental thing being that these actors had to rehearse tirelessly to get the timing of it all down for the for the one shot technique, which is something you would have to do if you were starring in a stage play. This succeeds wildly at every point, and with a vibrant drum score to underscore the drama, get ready to be mesmerized.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) *****
– Critic for Hire
Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2014? See for yourself here.