Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) simply soars beyond expectations. I was aware of the conceit of the movie going in. Birdman unwinds in one continuous take. But it’s a trick of cinematic proportions.
Helmer Alejandro González Iñárritu uses digital technology to create invisible edits. At one point the camera passes by a column or wall and there’s an edit; Hitchcock used the same technique in Rope (1948) although to watch that thriller now the style seems blatant. Iñárritu is anything but obvious. At another point the camera comes to rest on the sidewalk outside a theater and time lapse indicates the passage of night to day. Then the camera starts to move inside the theater. Other shots are designed as lengthy tracking shots that can move from a dressing room to a stage or even a walking backstage shot that goes out a door and right down the street to Times Square.
Having only seen Birdman once I was thinking I could follow the action and notice every cut. Yet I found myself so caught up in the story, so involved with the characters, that I lost track of the technical aspect of the film and was swept up by the energy of the story.
Michael Keaton plays the titular Birdman. Keaton’s character Riggan was a comic book movie hero a generation ago and he refuses to do a Birdman 4. Instead Riggan devotes his talent to directing and acting in a Broadway play. Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Edward Norton co-star. The entire cast gets their individual moments before the camera. Here Norton is funny and Galifianakis is the straight man. Cinematography is by Emmanuel Lubezki who won an Oscar for shooting Gravity and whose photography here is on a par with his best work. Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione are the editors and their seamless cutting contributes to the effortless flow of Birdman.
Iñárritu has a penchant for weaving a sense of magical realism into the drama. Riggan may be off his rocker or he may actually know how to fly. Some scenes have Riggan talking to his alter ego of Birdman, and the audience sees the two of them walking down a sidewalk having a conversation. Another scene has Riggan in a tight shot but when the camera pulls back Riggan appears to be in a levitating yoga pose. Birdman constantly plays with our expectations. The reality of the characters, while it’s not our reality, pays off time and time again.
- Michael Bergeron