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Film Review: Soaring above the rest

Surely, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (MPAS) could not have been wrong for picking Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as the Best Picture of 2015?

By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Saturday 7 March 2015, 10:00AM

Five Stars

Birdman or the Unexpected Virture of Ignorance

Michael Keaton,
Edward Norton,
Emma Stone,
Naomi Watts,
Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
and Lindsay Duncan
Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Running time:
119 minutes

The film, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (21 Grams; Babel) is a refreshing and frustrating novel yet eccentric, serious but funny. Very funny, actually, almost in the same realm as The Cable Guy and The Big Lebowski – a dark comedy with a dramatic pulse but done much better.

In an attempt to be taken seriously as an actor, former Hollywood star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), known best for his role as the iconic superhero Birdman, directs and stars in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What we talk about when we talk about love, which he also wrote. It’s Broadway, baby, and this is where former superheroes go to show their “real” acting chops. Broadway veteran Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) antagonises Thomson at various points and almost sabotages his efforts at a comeback. All this while juggling his fatherly duties and dealing with the anxiety that goes with the production.

Thomson is a prisoner of his own inflated ego and goes so far as to think: “if George Clooney dies on the same day as me, I’ll be forgotten”. He risks everything just so he could matter once again, whatever the cost. He’s a tragic character who was once at the top but has fallen so far that he’s become less than a joke, he’s irrelevant.


As great as Keaton’s performance is, Norton’s is flawless – which begs the question: is this real life?

Like a peregrine falcon soaring at 390km/h, Birdman is blurry from beginning to end. Not cinematically (it won an Oscar for that too) as there are no cuts in the entire film – it’s all seemingly done in one impressive shot!

Still, the audience is given a meta film dressed up in surrealism. Questions about whether this film takes place in the real world, given Thomson’s penchant for talking to himself, showing off his telekinetic powers to no one and even flying through the air. But there are also doses of clarity: a taxi cab asking for fare, a hobo reciting lines of a play, and so on.

The camera veneers from shot to shot, waiting for the actors to roll through and take the audience on yet another “situation”. Where we ultimately get to, however, are moments where characters are pining over instances that, ultimately, don’t matter as much as they believe. From a pregnancy scare to marital troubles to recovering addicts and the divide between critics and artists – Birdman’s characters constantly confuse admiration for love and realism for talent.

While much ink has been spilled on calling this Iñárritu’s masterpiece (seriously, one tracking shot for 119 minutes? Well done), Birdman is also Keaton’s magnum opus. Who better to portray an aging actor vying for credibility decades after playing a famous superhero? Keaton was truly the only choice and he delivered in the same way Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler.

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