Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
Always a stellar addition to any, cast Michael Keaton headlines Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and proves he’s not only relevant once again by delivering a truly career defining, awards-worthy, performance (earning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination among many others), but carrying Alejandro González Iñárritu’s (Biutiful) brilliant, original, and utterly unique comedy/drama to huge successes.
In a film which sees art imitating life (in a whole range of ways), Keaton stars as washed-up Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson; a man who’s famous for playing a caped superhero known as Birdman in a number of Hollywood blockbusters several decades earlier, has never been able to escape the role, and is now trying to prove he’s still worthy, still relevant, and still matters by launching a Broadway play which he’s written, directed, and is starring in.
Needless to say there are all sorts of problems with the play; from Riggan disliking certain actors, to hiring brilliant but pretentious actors who’re great on stage but horrible in real life (Edward Norton’s Mike), his fresh-out of rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man) being not only a little strange, and on the edge of relapsing, but despising her father and her job as his assistant, problems with the material, having no money to fund the play, potential reviews which could scupper the whole endeavour, and his own relationships with actors, and his ex-wife getting in the way.
Yet the entire enterprise, as with everything in Riggan’s life, revolves around the former Birdman’s ego; he’s a self-centred ego-maniac who’s not vindictive, malicious, or unlikeable in any way shape or form, he just think’s he’s it; he think’s he’s been short-changed somewhere along the road, and is craving the love, and recognition he once had. And the way in which his ego is realised in Birdman is brilliant; via strange little delusions where Riggan sees himself moving objects telepathically, levitating, and even flying or throwing things around the room, and an inner monologue (delivered in a Birdman voice) which keeps reaffirming his brilliance, and how far above these people he is.
Though it’s not solely the inner monologue, glimpses into Riggan’s delusional world, or the gripping performance of Michael Keaton which keeps Birdman interesting. Director Alejandro Iñárritu has filmed it in such a fantastically original way, where almost the entire film looks like one long, never-ending, tracking shot; a brilliant decision which not only localises the film in one place (the theatre, and surrounding street; mirroring Riggan’s focus) but keeps a surprisingly snappy pace (the entire film takes place over only a couple of days) and finds inventive and original ways to keep moving forward whilst it continues to keep pulling you further and further into Riggan’s world with every passing second.
The cast is also superb, as not only is Keaton stunningly brilliant; he’s been a fantastic actor for years (though sadly overlooked since his Batman days; a clear example of art imitating life, given the nature of his character), and delivers possibly the best performance of his career here, with a fantastic, unfaltering, range which proves he’s not just Batman, he’s not just the comedy support, but a full-on, Oscar-worthy actor who deserved to win every one of the acting awards he was nominated for; but Norton is also fantastic; a pretentious show-stealing douchebag who again mirrors what many people believe him to be life in real life (also teasing whether or not he was fired from his last big superhero gig; The Hulk?); Emma Stone gets the chance to once again prove she’s a real actress; delivering a great performance as the damaged daughter of a former megastar; and each and every supporting star; from Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), to Naomi Watts (The Ring), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), and Amy Ryan (Escape Plan); are well placed, and directed to deliver strong and believable performances, as everyone here brings their A-game.
In fact, while the cast do an undeniably good job, and it’s great to see Keaton back at the forefront once again, Birdman is a testament to one man above all others; Alejandro González Iñárritu; the writer, director, and true driving force behind what can only be described as the freshest, most original, darkly funny, hugely inventive and utterly gripping film released in years.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a triumph on every level, a shoe-in for film of the year, and a true masterpiece which deserves the hype. Iñárritu has delivered something original, something dark, something funny, something witty, and something a little bit sad with one single film; it’s his crowning glory, his mona Lisa, and a film which deserves the recognition it’s been earning. It proves Michael Keaton is still relevant, deserves to clear up awards for acting, direction, and editing at least, and is simply outstanding on all fronts. In fact there simply aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe how good Birdman is. If ever there was a must-watch movie, this is it.
Honestly, it’s surprising to see just how good Birdman looks on Blu-ray. Given it’s apparent low-budget/indie nature you’d expect a decent but fairly average transfer, yet the digitally shot film we’re presented with here is stunning, and practically flawless, in every respect. Appearing consistently sharp and clean throughout, there’s an amazing level of fine detail on display, excellent textures, and consistently deep and stable black levels providing solid delineation wherever necessary (a good thing as much of the film takes places in dimly lit rooms).
Fleshtones remain natural looking, contrast is excellent, and the few instances of strong colour representation really do pop (and thankfully come without any unnecessary bleeding), meaning when coupled with only the tiniest hint of filmic grain, a mere handful of instantly missable banding issues, and an excellent overall presentation, the picture quality awarded to the Birdman Blu-ray is nothing short of stunning.
Similarly strong (though sadly not quite as astounding) is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanying Birdman to Blu-ray; an undeniably immersive mix which boasts perfect dialogue, excellent use of the surround channels (bustling with activity during street scenes, and backstage action), effective pans, and subtle but natural feeling use of the low end (used mostly with the film’s drum-heavy score), which combines to create a well-levelled mix which does an excellent job of immersing you within The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.
Though sadly letting the disc down, is the rather limited nature of Birdman‘s special features. Consisting of an All Access featurette (a worthy, half-hour, making of which does provide a good deal of information and behind the scenes footage), a photo gallery (filler which will likely be overlooked by most viewers), and A Conversation With Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (which is excellent; discussing the film, the process, and delving into the meaning behind various things – there is none, it’s experimental and you take from it what you will), which while all prove worthy inclusions on the disc (less so in the case of the photo gallery) simply seem like part of a larger package, and feel somewhat lacking.
Where are the cast interviews? Where’s the audio commentary? Where are the deleted scenes and the promotional trailers? Where’s the featurette dedicated to the unusual score? They’re all absent, and while what we may have is acceptable, interesting and informative even, it’s far from exhaustive, far from astounding, and little more than average.
The Bottom Line:
An unusual occurrence in modern day cinema, Birdman: (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a truly unique film; an interesting examination of the internal psyche, ego, and the lengths at which people will go to stay relevant. It’s a remarkable movie, and one which has to be watched again. The performances are fantastic, the writing is superb, and the overall style of Birdman is cinematic gold.
The collection of bonus materials on the BirdmanBlu-ray won’t exactly light the world on fire, but the rest of the disc is simply stunning; both the video and audio are near flawless in therms of quality, and represent the film exactly as it was meant to be seen; meaning the overall package is extremely strong, and as the perfect picture and amazing audio serve a gripping, inventive, darkly humorous and wonderfully touching movie with a fantastic cast, excellent direction, and clear re-watchability, there really is no reason not to buy Birdman: (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).
Highly recommended, and an excellent addition to any Blu-ray collection, Birdman: (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a must-buy.