Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


Release: Friday, October 17, 2014 (limited)


Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu; Nicolás Giacobone; Alexander Dinelaris Jr.; Armando Bo

Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu 

Michael Keaton as Birdman as Batman, is awesome.

Behind him, a coterie of memorable characters, some fictitious and others parodies of the performers playing them. There’s Ed Norton in his underwear, Emma Stone in a drug rehab phase (if you thought she was good before, Birdman demonstrates that there is another level of impressive that she’s capable of reaching), and Zach Galifianakis, subdued to the point of being unrecognizable. There are so many elements to carry with you out of the theater, but it is these individuals who will preoccupy your thoughts more often than anything else.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the fifth film from Mexico City-born Alejandro González Iñárritu and my first experience with his work. It tells the tale of a desperate and washed-up actor, Riggan Thomson, trying to salvage his career by mounting his first Broadway play, one based upon American writer Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. When one of the play’s star performers is ‘accidentally’ injured on set, Riggan stumbles upon what first appears to be his ideal candidate, a well-established actor by the name of Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) for the part. But in the days leading up to opening night, a string of on and off-set snafu’s threatens to shut down the play before it has even debuted.

Two decades after Riggan decided to step away from the role of the popular (and fictional) superhero Birdman he is found succumbing to hair loss and possible mental instability while scrambling for a way to revitalize himself. The film unequivocally runs parallel to Keaton’s own Hollywood experience, particularly the years after he exited Tim Burton’s take on Batman. Now, Birdman doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of the actor’s history but every little bit of familiarity is likely to enhance the experience. For those who know, the struggle is indeed very real.

Birdman is a film student’s guide to establishing creative shots. Cameras spend much of the time following Riggan around the cramped interior of the famed St. James Theater in New York City, occasionally ducking out of the building to deal with side stories involving his troubled daughter Sam (Stone) and to put into perspective Riggan’s dual identities — as an aging actor and a former superhero. He’ll have you know that there are distinct differences, unique burdens and even particular liberating powers. And what better way to try and visualize the concept of a man struggling to accept who is than by hiring the incredibly talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (don’t take it from me, check out his work in Gravity). Once again, his cameras find some of the most beautiful imagery in difficult and unusual places.

There’s one technical aspect that really separates the film from other tales of ill-conceived attempts at career resuscitation, and that’s Iñárritu’s wanting to give the impression the movie is cut as one long, continuous take. Thanks to Douglas Crise’s crucial editing, it’s much easier to feel a part of the process because we never feel as if we’re watching a series of scenes strung together. There’s a flow to the proceedings that could very easily be overlooked in favor of the impossible dynamic between its cast and setting.

If the unexpected virtue of ignorance does have fault, it’s just that: too many things to ogle over and become infatuated with. It might be too dynamic a picture, but that’s more a passive-aggressive compliment than a sleight against a director who simply has a wealth of strong ideas surfacing at once. In some ways Iñárritu’s imagination is like that of a child’s: exploding with ideas and bright color, an obsession with the fundamentals of existence, things like popularity. Self-identity. Awareness of the place that has you contained. In Riggan’s case, it’s more a fear and confusion over these things from his past than apprehension and curiosity about what the future holds.

Riggan is a complex and massively entertaining character. But he is merely one piece of a fascinating jigsaw puzzle that crams stellar performances — Galifianakis, as Riggan’s best friend, lawyer and producer Jake, deserves a second mention perhaps more than Stone — as well as a passion for theater, and positively thrilling and adventurous storytelling into a relatively taut two hours. Is this the part where I am supposed to mention something about the score as well? Surely the jazz-drum score laid down by Antonio Sanchez will linger in the mind well after the end credits have rolled.

Here’s a production that is as uniquely bizarre as it is efficient and deceptively straightforward. Actors are, more often than not, some pretty insecure people. Actors want to be liked. They ideally would like to be adored by all. While that’s never going to be true, one is still allowed to dream. Here are those dreams visualized, distorted and shaped as if made of something tangible. As far as Iñárritu and Birdman are concerned, anything is possible through the magic of performance art. I absolutely loved this movie.


5-0Recommendation: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one whacky ride. Its outward appearance is likely to scare away a few who aren’t too impressed with kinky stories. For god’s sakes we have Ed Norton fighting Keaton in his undergarments, actresses making out with each other for the hell of it, and a man seemingly possessing an ability to control things with his mind. (If that wasn’t telekinesis, whatever the director’s doing with that little extra bit certainly propels the film further into the weird.) But it’s such weird, good fun and if you are game for a movie that is a little different from the rest, I can’t recommend a better one right now than this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Sixty is the new thirty, motherf**ker.”

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59 thoughts on “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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  5. Excellent review, Tom! I really, really, really wanna see this, and this makes me want to see it even more! Too bad the showtimes here are so limited it should be a crime… :/

    • I hate how Birdman is another recipient of the ‘limited release’ variety. This movie is SOOO much better than to be pigeonholed into that. . .category. . .I guess if you want to call it that. It’s a shame, really. Although if you can’t get to it at your local theater, it’s well worth the rental price. At least, I think so. This movie is definitely up my alley, but I feel we have similar sensibilities so I’m pretty confident you’ll enjoy yourself in this craziness too. 😀

    • Hello there!! As I’ve told Dave, I find Birdman worth the wait. I’ve recently been lamenting the fact that my area didn’t get Foxcatcher when it came out (and it doesn’t look like it’s coming round anytime soon…..poop!!!!), but then I have to remember we were given things like this the weekend they debuted. But I’m more and more becoming frustrated with these “limited” release thingies. Why can’t good movies be just as available as big, blockbuster formula shitters?? (Shitters = tent pole movie events)


      Anyway, I did so love this movie. It’s terrific.

      • I so totally agree! I’ve missed out on seeing so many amazing looking films as nowhere near me will play them if they’re not a Michael freaking Bay movie. Was so happy to catch I Origins recently. My hubby & I were the ONLY ones at it. They actually forgot to start playing it and we sat there in darkness for ages. Lol!!!! Anyway, it pisses me off. These types of movies deserve the chance to actually be seen. :-/

        • Are you serious? They forgot to start playing the film? hahah that’s something I haven’t experienced or heard of happening to someone yet! Wow, priceless. 😀

          Yeah. It’s something I’ve become a little more aware of lately. Don’t know why it bugs me, but it’s good to know I’m not alone in thinking that limited releases and blockbusters should be swapped out. Let’s make the “Interstellars” of the world become distributed on 300 screens instead of 3,000. Hahah. Can you imagine if hardly anyone knew about projects like that?

  6. Outstanding work, as always, Mucker! At first I had written this film off as I’m not a big Keaton fan. However, the more I hear and read, the more it’s caught my interest. It’s sounds superb and even though I hate to admit it, Keaton sounds perfect for this role.

    • Anything Keaton has done to earn the wrath of Markus Walker? I can’t say I’ve been a huge supporter of his for years or anything like that, but I think he’s quite brilliant if Riggan Thompson is any indication. Definitely give this one a go man, it’s quite creative filmmaking. A nice break from the usual fare

      • Ive just always felt that Keaton overplays it quite a bit. I did enjoy him in Beetlejuice but he seemed to always go for an histrionic, outrageous performance afrer that when really he’d have faired better if he toned it down. Frankly, ive always found him to be quite iritating. Im hoping this will be different though. I do like the sound of it!

  7. I really like Inarittu and it just looks like such an odd film for him to make, this looks so surreal comparing to his other works. I’m definitely gonna see it and I’m also so glad it has Andrea Riseborough in it – perhaps one of these days her participation in films like this will finally lead to some good roles that allow her to show her talent again.

    • If you’re a fan of Riseborough you will not be disappointed. Every single name in this little diddy is playing such an odd, quirky character. Between her, Keaton and Galifianakis this movie has some of the most awesome peeps in the most recent movies I’ve seen hands down!

      This is actually my first experience with Iñárritu’s work but I greatly look forward to more! Thanks kindly for dropping on in, Sati

    • Patience is definitely a virtue lol. This movie’ s definitely worth the wait Dave, and I can’t wait to hear a report if you do get a look. Keaton is back in action and it’s awesome.

    • With my general lack of experience with all things Keaton, this was more of a realization for me to see just what the guy could do. And he’s brilliant here. I think the last thing I saw the man in was seriously Jack Frost! Lol! Not exactly his finest hour, but I suppose not the worst thing in the world, either.

  8. Interesting stuff here, Tom. Looks like you really liked this one! I have yet to see it, and to be honest, I’m a bit hesitant. I’m all for seeing movies that are a bit different, really. But the trailer made this look so bizarre, that I’m not sure what to think! I’m glad you liked it a lot. I’m curious to see whether it’s still showing in theaters by the time I’m actually able to get to seeing it!

    • Kristen, this movie might be my tip-top favorite of the year. Although we’ll have to give it another four or five weeks until the actual end of the year, I seem to say that about each new movie I see in these last couple! Lol. I love the end of the year for movies, it just gets so much more exciting.

      I suggest you check this out despite the hesitation. Its trailer is bizarre for sure, and the movie might even be more bizarre, but man is this thing such a fun trip! It’s one of those movies that is just. . .if you can’t get anything out of it, it’s just a unique thing to sit through and is interesting on that ground alone, at least I think so. 🙂

      • Oh wow! Sounds like I NEED to see this, ha. I do hope it comes out on DVD in time for the Oscars then, so I can see this. I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve faced a time where there have been more films come out that I’ve wanted to see than this fall/winter season. Despite all the great movies I’ve seen, it seems I’m still behind!

        Thanks for the encouragement to see this, Tom. It will make it a point to see it at some point, even if it’s on DVD.

    • Man I have been lucky enough to actually get to experience Whiplash. I’m hoping it will stick around these parts for awhile, but I sincerely doubt it will. As you said, it’s got a tragically quiet marketing campaign that really hasn’t opened enough people’s eyes to its greatness. Same with Birdman. Everyone I tell about this movie is like, ‘what is that?’ Lol. Such a shame. Great movies should not be overlooked in favor of the next Hunger Games blockbuster, good as those things are!

  9. Just found out this is still playing at the local indie theater I volunteer at. Hitting this bad boy this weekend. Loved your review! (I just skimmed it but will return to it after I have seen the movie) Thanks, Tom. Another insightful post, man.

    • Cheers Vic, and I truly hope you enjoy it. It is shaping up to be among my favorites of the year. Birdman is a wonderful invention.

    • Thank you very much man! Indeed, 2014 has been showing some real promise early on (The Lego Movie was a good indication of the kind of year we might have) and is seemingly finishing on a strong note. I can’t believe how frequently I’m turning to my full pie rating, I try not to do this as it makes the grading system seem a little watered down. But truly, I feel these films are this good as of late. Michael Keaton here is just brilliant. So is Galifianakis and Emma Stone.

      This very well might be my favorite movie of the year.

  10. I’m dying to see this. I’ve been so busy with university, work, and complete laziness that I haven’t got around to travelling a bit in order to see this. I’ll have to go downtown (40 minutes away) to find a theater that plays it. I like bizarre dude. So this should work for me! The story is so fresh as well!

    • Cheers dude, you won’t find a much more ‘fresh’ take on the play (or movie-making) process than this right now. Oh man, the more I think about this the higher it rises on my list of favorites of 2014. 🙂

      Go see this, trample over as many people as you need to, but please. Just go see this.

  11. Also, loved how AGI successfully tackled a comedy after so many bleak films. You should see his other stuff (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful; all great IMO, but I’m biased because I worship the man).

    • Yes sir, it was definitely all of those things. It was also insanely accurate at least in terms of the social media ranting Emma Stone went on. The dialogue just cut to the core of insecure people everywhere (including yours truly!) Lol. Thanks for the comment as always man, I can’t remember if I have read your review of it yet. Will have to check here in a bit

  12. Fantastic review, Tom! This is my favorite film of the year so far. Such a complete film, solid all-around. I think Mexico is going to have another big night at the Oscars. Alejandro could very well become the second Mexican to nab ‘Best Director’ and I’d be so glad if Emmanuel Lubezki won two years in a row! Loved the score and everyone in the cast (Galifianakis was certainly a nice surprise). Hilarious movie and very entertaining. Emma Stone’s social media monologue was also a highlight. UGH, I freakin’ loved everything. Can’t wait to check it out again.

    • I echo your thoughts completely man! Everything was just so top-notch here, to the point where, as I mentioned in the review, it almost was overwhelming. The performances are stellar, the setting is unique and fun, and the music as well as the cinematography were pretty much to die for. Boy don’t we all sound a little giddy over Birdman?

      Yes. Yes we do. It’s awesome. And not Interstellar! Lol.

    • Cheers Zoe!! This was an absolute riot of a good time. 🙂 Keaton is great, Emma Stone is at the top of her game, and if anyone who has ever said Galifianakis can’t act, here is some proof. I’m so pumped about this one.

  13. I mean I love Keaton and will go to see any movie with him without knowing anything because he is one of my favourite actors by far. So combining him w Ed Norton might be too much for me and might blow my mind away. 🙂 this is so a must watch for me.

    • It very well could be a mind-blowing experience man! Haha, there’s so much to digest and love about this movie. Interstellar was great and all, but I’d much quicker go see this again in theaters. Probably a testament to Keaton’s performance and Lubezki’s gorgeous cinematography. Thanks for the comment

  14. I am well and truly down for this one but we don’t get it here until January. I love Iñárritu but this sounds completely different to everything he’s done before, which is intriguing. Nice write up.

  15. Great review Tom! In the month since this has been out, I’ve read nothing but raves. It’s such a good movie. So how to explain the lackluster box office? $8 million against a budget of $18 million. Maybe it’s a slow starter. It’s so sad films like this don’t catch on with the public.

    • Thanks! It’s truly one of the greatest of the year I think. And definitely (and most unfortunately) one that is probably going to evade the mainstream for as long as it will be on the circuit. So sad indeed. If only a single review were enough to convince everyone and their brother to get out and see it, this is such a fun time.

      • Damn that drive sounds like a slog! But probably a worthwhile slog for this movie, depending on how you react to it’s. . . . . unpredictability. Lol.

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