Black comedy, character drama and magical realism all blend together in what could be the best film of the year. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” dazzles audiences with seamless editing, vibrant visuals and award-worthy performances from an all-star cast. Alejandro González Iñárritu, known for his critically acclaimed films “Babel” (2006) and “Biutiful” (2010), strikes again with a gorgeous, introspective and wildly entertaining movie.
Riggan Thomas(Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who has lost the sense of fame he had 20 years ago after starring in three blockbuster films as the superhero Birdman. Thomas is attempts a comeback by writing, directing and starring in a theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” What ensues is a well crafted narrative examining fame, insecurity, familial relationships and the role of theatre.
Most impressive among the cinematography is the almost seamlessly edited single shot in which the film takes place. Edits occur only through the occasional blackened doorway, or during a night-day time shift. With these minor exceptions, the film appears to have only one long take. Audiences get a real sense of movement, physical and dramatic, as the camera follows each character throughout their lives in the theatre before and during the premiere of the play. In an attempt to bring a theatrical experience to the big screen not seen since Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1958), this long tracking shot immerses the viewers in the narrative and retains an upbeat pace, keeping audience attention on the interpersonal drama.
The cinematography, which seems to preserve the verisimilitude of the film, is betrayed by the supernatural powers exhibited by Thomas. The film opens with Thomas seemingly meditating in his underwear in his dressing room and he continues throughout the film to display telekinesis and flight. He is also haunted by the voice of his character Birdman. The coarse, gravelly baritone consoles, berates and empowers Thomas. These moments occur only when Thomas is alone, which raises an important question to the audience regarding his sanity.
It is in these moments where genre, content and form blend because it’s never clear whether Thomas is a depressed ‘has-been’ losing his mind or if he’s actually a resurging superhero. The film transcends into a sort of magical-realist fable as our perception of events is constantly being tested between what we see and what we believe. This tension between realities denies viewers from just watching the film and forces them to experience it.
Laughs, tears, thrills and questioning reality awaits any who choose to see this film. With a supporting cast that deserves Academy Award attention and visuals that will provoke a more involved viewing experience, “Birdman” truly soars.