By Jack Rico
The “1-4-0″: #Birdman is one of the best movies of 2014. It’s a psychological dark dramedy that probes themes of relevance and the ephemerality of success.
The Gist: In art imitating life, an actor (Michael Keaton) who gave up being a superhero character called “Birdman” that generated billion of dollars for Hollywood, heads to Broadway to revive his career and get his daughter back.
What Works: Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams, Biutiful) helms, writes and produces this psychological dark dramedy that tackles the subject of the fragility of success and the questions surrounding Hollywood relevancy. Iñárritu’s directorial game has improved drastically leaving out the grit of his previous films and embracing a new visual style. This is exemplified by his decision to shoot the whole film seemingly in one take. He has used some conceptual influences from vintage films such as Hitchcock’s one take shot from “Rope“.
But more recently, Iñarritu seems to have been swayed to use this visual approach from his best friend Alfonso Cuarón‘s grandiose “Gravity” opening shot or Juan José Campanella‘s Argentinian masterpiece, “Secret In Their Eyes,” whose highlight was the 20 minute stadium one-take sequence at the centerpiece of the film. These one take shots look impressive, but they’re also stitched together through the use of CGI to give the impression that it’s done in one sequence. Nevertheless, it’s a great watch. In addition, Iñárritu’s script is precious. I love the perspicacity and profound emotional tenor of the dialogue. It’s full of insight and wisdom. These words really pop to life through Ed Norton‘s acting, who gives the best performance of his career since “Primal Fear” from 1996. Emma Stone is also fantastic showing a cynical, rebellious strength that makes her much more interesting than anything I’ve ever seen her in.
What Doesn’t Work: There isn’t much to criticize here. If you had to nitpick at this black comedy, you’d point to moments where there are some matters that are not explained properly, but should they? (Spoiler alert) For example, Keaton’s character uses some sort of telekinetic power, but it is not explained how this happens. My thoughts are that it is a form of magical realism storytelling. None of this will detract you from the wonderfully smart film experience.
Pay or Nay? Pay. Birdman, properly titled Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is a very different movie from what Iñárritu’s has ever done or from what common moviegoers have seen. It is oddly funny, yet it packs a high dose of reality that should make you go, “Aaaah” a few times. This is an esoteric film catering to a particular type of filmgoer, which is why a vast number of people may say they didn’t “get it”. It’s a voice understood by those who work or have a liking to “the industry”. Expect this film to be the talk of the Oscar season, plus be involved in the pursuit of history… if Iñarritu is nominated for Best Director, he could be a part in having two Latinos win Best Director Oscar awards in back to back years. That would be a coup for Mexico and all Hispanics alike.
Rated: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date: October 17, 2014
Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Director(s): Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Distributor: Fox Searchlights
Film Genre: Drama, Comedy