I have been chomping at the bit to watch this movie for a while and finally was able to do so last weekend. Inarittu's name may not be the easiest to recall to mind, but that's going to change. What he's created here is a tour de force, driven by a creative and unstoppable energy that crackles palpably as it drives on. The force is less like a locomotive and more like a hurtling freefall leap from the edge of a cliff.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is shot in a way that gives the illusion of one long continuous take. This is probably the easiest artistic aspect of it to address firsthand. The idea of it is unique and creates a remarkable strain on actors, who have to deliver long takes of dialogue and frenetic choreographed dances through the streets of New York but the awe of this isn't that the movie works to service what could be a neat trick or clever conceit. The awe comes from the fact that this long take is in service of a movie that keeps barreling along, feeling desperate to keep together at the seams even as it unravels in sanity right from the first scene.
Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a fading actor who is more known for his portrayal of a Birdman, a superhero in a blockbuster franchise from decades ago. His last bid on...admiration? relevance? self-respect as an actor? is a play that he has penned from a Raymond Carver short story that he is directing and starring in Broadway. The movie is a dance as the characters rev up through the preview nights and up to the opening show of the play, but is also an exchange between Riggans and his actors, his family members, and a strange alter-ego in the form of his past superhero self that voices all the thoughts we as humans and artists struggle with: the desire and entitlement of talent, the destruction of self-hate, the poison of loathing another in your craft.
The camera and film give an even-keeled look at the different characters and how they deal with these struggles. There's a level of competency or how we create alter egos even as human beings, whether as an actor faking on the stage or to cope with the banality of trite phrases that have lost meaning. Birdman dares you to pay very very close attention to what it shows, what it says, and dares you to look again. What is the ignorance which the movie speaks of? Maybe it's the ignorance we shed as we gain experience and cynicism. Maybe it's the ignorance of that alter ego within us which can propel us towards either fame or destruction. Maybe it's an ignorance of the reality inherent in art (or the reverse).
Oftentimes, when there's an A-list cast such as this, the movie unfortunately comes off as being less than the sum of its parts. Thankfully, Birdman was not such a movie. Emmanuel Lubezki as DP gives fantastic colors and tones throughout the landscape of the movie and the frenetic energy of the movie is captured perfectly by Antonio Sanchez, who also gives a sly wink or two to the audience in the midst of the movie with the rat-a-tat of his percussive beats.
Go watch this movie. The more I think on it, the more I piece together and appreciate. I'm thankful there are directors that still take risks and are able to take us on a ride that can't be prepared for.