"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" Review

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a cinematic experience. It’s one of the films that going into knowing very little about it, makes the viewing that much better. From the opening frame you’ll be swept up in its direction. 

Michael Keaton is Riggan, once a big movie star of a franchise entitled Birdman, he is now directing and starring in an adaptation he’s written of a Raymond Carver story. He’s doing if for glory and redemption. He wants the court of public opinion to be swayed back in his favor. He wants to mend the relationship with his fresh out of rehab daughter, Sam (Emma Stone). Most of all, he wants to prove to himself that he still has what it takes. 

Throughout the film, Riggan is haunted by the voice of Birdman. His younger self continues to taunt him by telling him about how great he could, should or would be if. It’s the voice that we all have heard in our own heads at some point, but the difference is our voices don’t give us magical powers. It’s not even clear if the “powers” Riggan has are real in this cinematic world or not, but that’s part of the fun of the film.

It doesn’t help that Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), the darling of Broadway, is now slowly making himself the star of Riggan’s play by inserting his method acting into the show. As the film moves forward, Riggan fights against himself and his young co-star for the praise of Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan). With one stroke of the pen, Tabitha’s critique can launch Riggan’s play to Broadway heaven or hell.

Co-writer/director Alejandro Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki deserve more credit for the brilliance of this film. Inarritu’s vision to use single takes with invisible cuts makes the film flow seamlessly and forces the actors to deliver strong, in the moment performances.  The occasional time jump that happens so discretely your mind has to catch up makes the film even more magical. It’s engaging and exciting to watch, and that kind of filmmaking doesn’t just happen. It’s a great collaboration between the visionary and the painter who ensures the picture will support that vision.

The intensity and mundaneness of life behind the curtain on Broadway is captured with just the right amount of ebb and flow pacing. The buzz surrounding Keaton’s performance is warranted as he quarterbacks the ensemble team. Each actor brings it in the film.

Overall, the “Birdman” is a bit trippy and sometimes you don't know what's real and what's not, but it's done in such an artistically inspired way that works for the objective of the film. Which on the surface is about a one time celebrity's internal struggle and fight to make himself relevant again, but ultimately it's about our desire/need as humans to be loved and remembered.

Rating: A

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.