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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Film Review

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Published January 25th 2015
"I'm nothing, I'm not even here"
birdman, film review, movie review, michael keaton, edward norton, emma stone, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts
All images © New Regency Pictures, M Prods & Grisbi Productions

Michael Keaton plays the comeback kid, much like in real life. A washed up actor who became famous playing an iconic superhero in the past. Now a small time director, he's staging an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story called 'What we talk about when we talk about love'. Having written it, he's directing it and starring in it himself. A lot is riding on this play as he's financially backing it and he's risked everything to make the comeback. This movie is set in the timeframe just before the premiere of the show and details the melodramatics before the show must go on.

Asked where the inspiration for the movie came from, director Alejandro González Iñárritu said in an interview that it came from the struggling battle we all have with our ego and in this case it was his own personal battle that he had when he turned 50 last year. It was a moment he reached realisation when he made a revision of the priorities he had given to his life. Some things were missing and some things were great and some not so great. He had a retrospection of the mechanics of how his own perceptions have been and found it interesting to learn how the ego can work. In his case he found in the creative process his ego is a conquistador, a tyrant, a dictator with self loathing that is very rude sometimes and can be misleading. He explored the constant bipolar relationship of this process where one minute he thinks he's the greatest and the next tearing himself down. Being a 'creative' he of course thought it would be a cool thing to be put in a film. Hence you have Keaton playing this conflicted person with reality battling his inner voice, the gravelly voice of Birdman or perhaps easily Keaton's Batman voice.

Having pilfered his life away, Riggan Thompson (Keaton) hires his sassy daughter Sam (Emma Stone) to be his personal assistant (in an attempt to make up for lost time when he was an absent father) and his friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis; first serious role I've seen him in) as producer. He seems to be the voice of reason and the one who brings Riggan back down to reality every now and then, being a real friend who tells it like it is and sometimes tells pokies to restore his friend's confidence when needed.

Twenty four hours before the show must go on, one of the lead actors has been injured and a replacement must be found. As luck would have it, through his leading lady Lesley (Naomi Watts) who is slightly neurotic, he gets the perfect replacement, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who though a brilliant actor is difficult, arrogant and demanding. Add to that a critic who wants his guts for garters and you have one majorly stressed out director who already has a hard time getting a grip on reality and is fast heading for a mental breakdown. All this stress is causing Riggan's inner voice to get louder, to give up and throw in the towel and to go back to reprising Birdman where he can just sit back and perhaps make mega bucks.

The whole film is a roller coaster ride that cuts between reality, inner voices and hallucinations. It'll have you wondering if the characters are speaking in the character of the play or whether they're being themselves. I was totally engaged by the roles of Norton and Keaton, which they performed brilliantly. Wow, what satisfaction when you see a good piece of acting. Naomi Watts though a leading actress in the play, does not actually play a very big role I thought. Emma Stone, a young budding actress I'd call her, who hasn't really cut her teeth yet, showed her chops in this movie but was no match for veterans like Keaton and Norton. Thrown in to the mix is also a lot of humour and the whole film is just delicious madness! Like everything, it's personal taste and some will love it and perhaps some won't. I personally found the movie engaging, something different, and enjoyed seeing Keaton back up on the screen. Hopefully this will lead to a few more offers seeing he's being touted for the academies. I give this an 8 out of 10.

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Why? A sometimes funny romp between hallucination and reality with a tour de force of acting chops from Keaton and Norton.
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