Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Keaton Soars—Movie

After viewing “Birdman,” the first words that come to mind are, “Welcome back, Michael Keaton! Where have you been?” Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu with screenplay by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, “Birdman” is not a perfect movie, but Michael Keaton is…he literally soars in his role.


“Birdman” is the story of the once shining movie star, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), most famous for his “Birdman” superhero movies, who’s now trying mount a comeback via Broadway and showing everyone that he’s a real actor. He’s turned Raymond Carver’s short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, into a play and is directing and starring in it. When one of his co-stars is injured during rehearsals, he jumps at the chance to replace him with Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a Broadway darling, whom he knows will fill seats. However, while Riggan is willing to share the stage and spotlight with him, he later realizes that he’s not necessarily emotionally prepared to handle the other baggage that comes with Shiner.

Riggan has literally bet the house on this play. How he’s able to concentrate on anything is a mystery. Fighting not very successfully the urge to drink, he’s constantly hearing Birdman’s voice in his head…imagining that he has Birdman’s telekinesis powers…or is he imagining? But when Birdman talks to him, as much as he might hate being known as only Birdman, we can see that it’s a love/hate relationship with the character. Truth be told, he walks a little taller when Birdman speaks to him.

In the days leading up to opening night, we meet other characters important to Riggan…chief among them, his two female co-stars, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Laura (Andrea Riseborough). Laura is Riggan’s much younger girlfriend who wants to be more. Lesley is a seasoned actress who can’t believe she’s finally making her Broadway debut. Added to the mix is Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter, a recovering drug addict, who’s serving as his production assistant; Jake (Zach Galifianakis), the play’s producer and Riggan’s long-time friend; Sylvia (Amy Ryan), Riggan’s ex-wife; and Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), the all-important New York Times theatre critic who tells Riggan in no uncertain terms that when she threatens, “I’m going to kill your play,” she really means it.

“Birdman’s” cast is phenomenal…wonderful actors all. “Birdman” is one of those rare films in which each actor seems perfectly suited for his or her role and where each is 100 percent successful in that role. Michael Keaton is just fantastic as the beleaguered actor. You can see the sheer panic in his character’s eyes and yet when he’s on stage, he seems totally at ease and in control. Keaton’s work with Emma Stone is exceedingly good. Stone, herself, gives a spectacular performance as the daughter trying to understand and support her father while striving to take care of herself at the same time. Naomi Watts is terrific as the actress so thrilled to be on the stage. Her scenes with Edward Norton and Keaton are really outstanding. Zach Galifianakis gives a very restrained performance as Riggan’s voice of reason. For once he is actually acting, rather than playing yet another buffoon, and he’s first-rate. Leslie Duncan’s NYT’s critic is scary, she’s so fierce. Duncan simply nails the snobbery and protectiveness her character feels for what she considers “real” theatre and genuine actors. Finally there is Edward Norton, who is just amazing. There’s such an energy about him and his character that when he’s on screen, it’s hard to take your eyes off him.

“Birdman’s” script is extremely clever and will definitely get you thinking the next time some former big name star hits the Broadway stage. The film’s musical score works beautifully with the film, often featuring a jazz-type drum beat, similar to that of “Whiplash,” behind many of its scenes which serves to heighten the film’s tension. The movie is shot in such a manner that it feels very claustrophobic as the actors run down the theatre’s hallways. It’s one of the rare films that has a real vibe of what it’s like backstage.

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” does have some unanswered question and lets you draw your own conclusions on some issues. But what it does do, through Michael Keaton, is provide an outstanding look at what it’s like to make a comeback…in this case both figuratively and literally.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4



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4 Responses to “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Keaton Soars—Movie”

  1. thycriticman Says:

    I am dying to see this. Not only does the cast look wonderful, but the story itself appears to be something fresh. I might have to drive around a bit to find a theater that plays this yet I feel like it will be totally worth it in the end!


  2. Lights Camera Reaction Says:

    I have to wait until January to see this – ugh. Glad you loved it though. I’m very excited to see it.


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