or “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”
I must confess I was prepared to like this merely because Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton was cast in the lead role as a former superhero film actor inextricably bound to his onscreen role as Birdman in three comic book franchise films.
What I was less prepared for was the surrealistic tone that the script imparts to the story or the success of the director’s “single-take” style of filming.
The supporting cast, Ed Norton and Naomi Watts, not to overlook Zachary Galifianakis in a fine non-comedic performance, does more than yeoman’s duty and the writing and direction distill the very sense of New York City’s Manhattan theatre district into a powerful potion that is practically a character in its own right.
The film is presented as an almost unbroken single shot that stretches more than 2 hours, encapsulating several days in the backstage and onstage and offstage life of Riggan Thomson, the actor who, seeking to break out of his typecast mold, gambles everything on adapting, directing and playing the lead role in a serious dramatic Broadway play that could just as easily decimate his career as resurrect it.
Keaton does more than just make his character riveting, he does so without resort to his broader and long established bag of tricks.
As a man on the brink of emotional and physical collapse, his point of view, his perceptions and hallucinations play as great a role in his film performance as anything else.
Not only Keaton’s character but Keaton himself throws the dice and comes up a winner as does virtually every other member of the cast. The parallels between Thomson and Keaton, between Birdman and Batman, between the play in the movie and this film in Keaton’s own career add a particular deliciousness to the proceedings that would be altogether lacking if anyone else had been cast in this role.
The musical soundtrack, a never-ending drum solo, further distinguishes the experience of seeing and hearing this most-remarkable of recent films. It adds a subtext of manic urgency that filters across the screen and into the viewer’s subconscious.
And finally, even if the more entrancing hallucinatory scenes weren’t already enough reason to see it, Keaton’s scene featuring his character’s much-ballyhooed nighttime run across Times Square clad only in his “tighty-whities” is destined to become a latter-day iconic scene of popular filmmaking and all by itself is reason enough to see this film.