Birdman is a remarkably unique and strikingly visual piece of imaginative filmmaking that features stellar performances from a great cast. While the film’s odd story and strange set pieces may have fallen flat under a lesser director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu does a breathtaking job at creating one of the year’s best films.
The best part about Inarritu’s work here is how genre-shaping the film is. There are moments of Birdman that form powerful interactions between characters and deliver emotional moments, as well as laugh out loud comedy, visual ingenuity, clever satire, and stylized set pieces. The “one-shot trick” of composing a seamlessly never ending shot is used to the most advantage possible and never comes out as a gimmick. But the cinematography is even better utilized in its extravagant sequences of no dialogue, where the visual sequences that taunt reality and real set pieces are mixed perfectly, giving Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki near locks for Academy Award nominations.
The satire of Birdman is also notable; similar to Gone Girl, the satirical elements are purposefully eccentric, but still never feel far from reality. But where Gone Girl was just an exploration of the media, Birdman is an exploration of our modern culture and the phenomenon of theater, film, critics, and media in general. The story here is really the first modern social satire, and is dealt with sharp wit, modern references, and in the words of the film’s subtitles (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) that reflects our modern world.
Similar to many of Innaritu’s films such as Babel and Biutiful, Birdman features many great performances. Headlining the cast is the obvious talent of Michael Keaton, who surprisingly never falls completely into self-parody and pulls off a legitimately great performance as a struggling actor trying to face the pursuit of art and happiness. Keaton is a relatable hero, but he is also a flawed and layered character whose struggles are surprisingly real.
Also great is the performance by Edward Norton, who after having a major comeback earlier this year in The Grand Budapest Hotel, gives a performance here that ranks among his work in Primal Fear, American History X, and Fight Club. Norton’s work here is a comic one, playing off his own persona as the difficult actor who pursues art and realism above all, but still gets scenes in which the emotion is still present. The supporting cast is also remarkable. Zack Galfinackis, who is unlikely cast as the straight man, is fantastic in a more subdued performance. Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough are also good in smaller performances, but do a great job at playing off Keaton.
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a remarkably original, socially relevant, and visually stunning piece of imaginative filmmaking that rides the line between comedy and drama finely with wit and emotion throughout. Hopefully the Academy Awards will recognize the tremendous work done here with a Best Picture nomination, but regardless it is a real treat for fans of cinema that functions as a relevant satire and an enjoyable film. Grade: A