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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Birdman

December 26th, 2014 by Conor ONeill Comments

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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (18)
Directored by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Running time: 119 min

A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Already the weight of multiple awards and the prediction of Academy Awards aplenty fore-shadow director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s latest release Birdman or, open brackets, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, which hardly rolls so sweetly off the tongue, but perhaps gives the viewer a greater insight into the story the movie tries to tell.

Starring, in perhaps one of his greatest performances, Michael Keaton as the washed-up former star of the Birdman franchise, Riggan, the film follows previews of his new play as he hallucinates, levitates and frustrates his way toward opening night and the dreaded pen of Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), Broadway’s most feared reviewer, and apparent hater of all that Riggan and action movies stand for. But is this a film about professional frustration, ageing actors, super-heroes, delusional, ignorance, fleeting celebrity or possibly all of the above? No amount of rhetoric from no matter what site you read on this movie can truly do it justice.

I purposely didn’t read a review before seeing this startling piece of cinema as I’d heard a bit about it beforehand, but afterwards I just had to read a few reviews to see if my thoughts and scribblings matched up to other reviewers’ responses.

Thankfully others seem to be have been left just as confused as myself. And, more importantly, just as confused as Keaton’s Riggan. Numb with his original co-star for the play, incidentally a rework of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Riggan’s real or imagined super-powers take care of the muppet opposite. Demanding someone worthy of his former authority on the silver screen, in steps Mike (Norton), a relentless practitioner of method acting with a hypnotic energy and a loathing of anything ‘not real’, and the old washed-up meets the younger and hungrier like crashing continental plates. It is perhaps this pairing that makes the movie obsessively watchable, even with the head scratching.

Add to these big names a well chosen support cast including: Zach Galifainakis (The Hangover trilogy); Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock, Happy Go Lucky) and Amy Ryan (Changeling, Win, Win) and together we have an ensemble almost preordained to deliver the goods. Chuck in a comet, sea monster and the use of live rounds in a packed theatre and what we have here is a movie as close to a theatre production as can be. And here is where Inarritu’s, fresh from 2013’s Alfonso Cauron’s Gravity brilliance, strengths lie.

His ability to leave the viewer believing they’re watching one continuous piece of moving picture. The camera refuses to leave the action as if the actors are magnetic north and the camera an unwavering compass following its master. These are not moments of film, but rather a long take – God knows how many takes it takes to keep up such continuity? – and a beautiful film it is too. From Broadway, to hints toward 2010’s Gainsbough: A Heroic Life like hallucinations with alter-egos, aka The Birdman, a daunting trip into a faltering mind, robotic birds, US Air Force involvement, a huffing critic, suicidal daughter and possibly star.

This movie is one to watch, and more importantly, one to buy and watch, watch again.

Released on January 1, forget the hangover, make your first New Years’ resolution, and probably the only one you’re likely to keep, the promise to go and see this.
Four out of Five  Nerds

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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.

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