Movie:  Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Riggan Thomson’s (Michael Keaton) life is in crisis mode.  Once on the top of the Hollywood Heap due to his starring role in the Birdman franchise, in recent years his star has fallen.  Thomson spurned the opportunity to do Birdman 4, and ever since then he has struggled to be relevant as an actor.  His marriage to Sylvia (Amy Ryan) fell apart, and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is recently out of rehab for drug addiction.  His fortune is gone, but with the help of his attorney and close friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis), he has cobbled together the resources to stage a new play on Broadway at the venerable St. James Theater.  Riggan intends to show the world he has serious acting chops, and is staging What People Talk About When They Talk About Love, an adaptation from a book of short stories by Raymond Carver.   It is a serious dramatic play with a minimal cast, including Lesley (Naomi Watts), Laura (Andrea Riseborough), and Broadway heavyweight actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton).

The movie focuses on the last few days of rehearsals and preview performances leading up to opening night on Broadway.  All of the actors are feeling the crushing pressure of preparing for the play’s opening, as well as dealing with multiple personal issues and personality conflicts with the other actors.  Riggan Thomson feels pure angst at all times, tortured by the idea that he was never a good actor, just a movie star who needed a bird suit to be rich and famous.  He is constantly reminded of his former glory by Birdman himself, an inner voice that follows Thomson around scolding and cajoling him about every decision.  The pressure is steadily ratcheting up on the middle-aged former star, and Thomson is like an untested performer going out on a high wire without a balancing pole or safety net.

This is a fascinating movie on several levels; it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before which alone makes it worth seeing at the theater.  Much of the movie consists of tracking shots of the actors as they move about in close quarters in back of the stage and dressing rooms.  Many of the takes are 8 to 10 minutes of unedited action which is rarely done in movies, but it gives the movie an extremely realistic vibe.  The camera work is sensational, and the movie is driven along like a heartbeat by the urgent improvised drum score of Antonio Sanchez.   This is Oscar material all around; a sure bet for a Best Actor nomination for Michael Keaton.  This was the role he was born to play.

Actor To Watch:  You may not even recognize Zach Galifianakis.   Great job in a really straight up dramatic role.  He will surprise (and impress) a lot of people in this film.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “Get that smile off your face.  You’re freaking me out!”

“What can I say?  My life lasted longer than the money.”

Riggan:  “Why did we break up?”  Sylvia:  “Because you threw a kitchen knife at me, and an hour later you said you loved me.”

“You couldn’t get it up for six months, and then you want to f*ck me in front of 800 strangers?”

“You went to rehab?  Cool!”

“Blood coming out of his ears is the most honest thing he’s ever done.”

Huh?  What the ….:  Right around the end of the movie you’re going to think, “What the hell just happened?”

Weird Credit:  If you follow the post movie credits, you will see a very minor actor by the name of Bomber Hurley-Smith.  Who names their kid “Bomber”?



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