Michael Keaton is a washed up actor most known for his portrayal of a superhero in the late 80s and early 90s, now trying to do some proper acting to relight the ignition on his career. That's what Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) hammers in from the start, the audience understands Keaton's Batman life and subsequent career is being mirrored in a funhouse manner by Alejandro Inarritu for the telling of a film about ego, mis-understanding what importance in life is and a story about the backstage preparation of a Broadway play. All presented in the guise of one seemingly long take, so that everything is in the moment, heightened and akin to a theatre production all happening at once, with nary a time to breath before we must return to the next beat of action. It ain't subtle. Though I doubt they intended it ever to be.
Truly the work involved in Birdman is incredible, the timing and feeling of sequences and threading the storylines together to allow actors to exit stage left so as to return before the end of the take, push the story and then follow them to the next hidden edit is stunning, and at no point does the film ever look ugly, finding ways to get perfect the visual look of interiors and exteriors in one conscious flow and never does the movement feel juddery or out of whack. What it does do, however, is make the audience trapped to a painful degree, so as to make the film intense to watch beyond comfortability long before the 2 hours are up. About an hour in or so I as a viewer certainly began to wish the film over shortly, the content of the film not being the problem as much as needing the break from it all.
The story, however, lacks a lot that the impressive technical aspects try to at least make up for. Washed up actor trying to prove he is worth something by going left-field, using all his finances for the sake of his ego and to remind himself that maybe he is more than just a man in a suit, whilst having the Birdman voice shout abuse at him until it wears him down. His rehabbed daughter (Emma Stone) is an assistant with a grudge, actress Andrea Riseborough is Riggan Thomson (Keaton)'s new lover, whilst Amy Ryan is his ex-wife, and Naomi Watts is the fresh blood excited to be on Broadway, and her friend, Edward Norton, is the swift replacement for an actor injured in rehearsals who happens to be a celebrated theatrical performer that likes everything to be a little too real on stage.Zach Galifianakis is the producer and best friend of Riggins, dealing with all the pressures until he bursts, and Lindsay Duncan is the theatrical reviewer of a New York paper that intends to bury Riggins' career. All over the course of the next few days/weeks of preparation and rehearsal in one long shot. One long, last shot.
There's a lot in the film, and for a vast amount of folk there seems to be plenty there to rejoice in, but it is very much a love it or leave it piece of work, moreso than Inarritu's earlier works which are mostly mediocre rather than out-and-out awful. Not that Birdman is awful, not at all, it is just very much honed in a specific way, and if you're not on board with the trailer, chances are you're not on board with the feature, use that as your testing ground. Technically marvelous but ultimately hollow, in the one opinion written here, and with a tone that often wants to be funny but wants the intensity of the drama to rise at the same time, and thus the undercutting can seem distracting between huge monologues and vulgar shout matches. A hard film to nail down, but thats the form the film has chosen to take, and for the majority it seems to have worked wonders. Majority, but not unanimously.