The Virtue of Selfishness
Film: Birdman – or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Duration: 2 hrs 2 mins
Rating: * * * * *
Birdman is not just a film, it is an experience and a highly exhilarating one at that. Alejandro González Iñárritu has made quite a few memorable films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) but with Birdman, he has not just pushed the envelope he has pushed the whole post office itself.
This is cinematic mastery of the highest order on every count – acting, scripting, camera and the music. The music incidentally has a drum score by Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez, but never before have drum solos been used so effectively as on the silver screen.
The film is shot in a way that it looks like one single long take. There are cuts of course but they are juxtaposed very well and hence not evident. As a result, there is no letting up right from the word go. Like a cooker building up the pressure it lets out some steam but only so that it reach a boil once again.
Starting with the fancy opening credits (a tribute to Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou) it holds your attention. Riggan Thompson is a movie star whose glory days are behind him, his claim to fame was the superhero he played, Birdman. Now he has turned to Broadway for one last hurrah by adapting Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love".
Right from the first long-take where the camera follows the conversation between Riggan and his friend (Zach Galifianakis) in the theatre, there is no cut in that scene it all just keeps flowing seamlessly from there.
Riggan has separated from his wife (Amy Ryan) his daughter (Emma Stone) has come out of rehab and his helping him with the production, while his current girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) declares that she is pregnant - but he is least bothered with any of the personal issues. All his attention and energy is focused on the play that he has written and directed.
Edward Norton plays Mike, an actor with an immense reputation but who takes his job a bit too seriously, he may fool around in life but not on the stage as he claims.
Riggan’s past as Birdman also stays with him as a voice that talks to him and at times, also making him believe that he is a superhero, in the very first scene we see him levitating.
In another brilliantly written and filmed scene, Birdman also severely indicts Hollywood and the run of the mill products that they make. Equally fabulous is the confrontation between him and the New York Times critic – “I am going to destroy your play” she says even before she watching it. Riggan’s character is also utterly convincing – apart from other things, he is so obsessed with what he doing that he is not even on Facebook or Twitter.
On the technical front, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who won an Oscar last year for Gravity is in top form and this film is another triumph for him. The cast is also extraordinary –Pity we don’t see much of Edward Norton, he is a terrific actor. Michael Keaton has given a performance of a lifetime and deserves all the accolades. To reiterate, Birdman is not just a film, it is an experience and a highly exhilarating one at that.
Published in The Navhind Times on 1st February 2015