Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is thoroughly engaging and highly entertaining for all its 119 minutes in length. Is it a film? Yes, I guess so – technically. But film would be too narrow a categorization for the creative work that is Birdman. There is so much in and to Birdman I will simply claim it is everything including the kitchen sink. Especially the kitchen sink.
Iñárritu’s (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) previous directing and writing efforts have yielded some wonderful, if not magnificent films – all to this point in time rather dark and thought provoking. Birdman is different in that it includes bright and dark. The two work well together.
Birdman is about [pick a hopeful topic] that appears to disintegrate through the sobering aspects of cynicism and on occasion reality – only to be overcome and in some cases completely thwarted by the strength of human spirit. I am not kidding. The screenplay by Iñárritu and Nicolás Giacobone covers so many topics and themes I am hard pressed think of one that is missing. And astonishingly, despite the apparent complexity I doubt you will get lost.
The usual Achilles heel for a script/screenplay full of varied and complex themes is a weakness in some other major aspect of the film (i.e., direction, casting, acting, staging, editing, cinematography, music/sound). There are none I can think of with Birdman. The ensemble cast proves to be stellar. Michael Keaton’s performance and the irony of his casting in the lead role is uncanny. However the exact same thing can be said for Edward Norton. It truly feels as if these two could have been cast in these roles because the Hollywood machine leads us to believe they may very well live the part on a day-in-day-out basis.
Zach Galifianakis (Due Date, The Hangover, Dinner for Schmucks), Amy Ryan (Capote, War of the Worlds, Gone Baby Gone) and Lindsay Duncan (Under the Tuscan Sun) play smaller roles (from a screen time perspective) that prove to be crucial to the enjoyment of Birdman.
If viewed on paper the music selection and score by Antonio Sanchez would appear to be an incongruent mess (e.g., Jazz, Opera, Pop, College Football Band Parade, Science Fiction Thriller). It works!
And then there is the cinematography. Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men, Ali, The Bird Cage, Little Princess) has done it again. Lubezki has conceived/executed a point-of-view continuos sequence style that practically inserts you into the situation. The “what feels like a” extended single take approach was utilized by Lubezki in the opening 18 minutes of Gravity and for the 17 minute military assault in Children of Men. What is different with Birdman? This is Broadway and includes scenes from back-stage intimacy to, mind-over-matter movement, to what has to be the ultimate battle in Birdman IV. Hey, you might get whiplash, but gosh the visuals are fascinating and fun. Besides doesn’t everyone in America have healthcare coverage?
In the end analysis, Birdman contains something – executed expertly – for every movie fan. At least that is my thinking. Perhaps you will argue that is the unexpected virtue of ignorance.