By Zeke Willcox
We all fear, in some way, that we don’t matter. We fear that the world has forgotten us, that we haven’t left a memorable mark.
Riggan Thompson is no exception.
“Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” is a comedy drama film, directed by Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone star in this tale set in 21st century New York depicting the life of washed-up actor, Riggan Thompson, portrayed by Keaton, trying to make a comeback through Broadway production.
Known only for his role as the superhero Birdman, Riggan Thompson is terrified that his life would be remembered for his portrayal of a beaked crusader.
We first meet Riggan as he is in the process of producing, directing, and acting in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
Dependent upon the production, Riggan hopes to regenerate his career and recreate his identity, not only as an actor, but as a person as well.
However he is plagued deep in his mind, with the past in the form of his alter ego, the malicious and self-glorifying Birdman. He mocks Riggan in deep, dark tones, trying to convince him to abandon all and return to his glory days as a superhero where everyone loved him, a time when Riggan actually mattered.
After an “accidental” mishap, Riggan, is forced to recast one of the lead roles. Enter Mike Shiner (Norton), a talented and unpredictable shining star in Broadway.
The first preview performances end in disaster, as Mike get drunk on stage , then later tries to rape fellow co-star Lesley (Naomi Watts) in front of an audience.
All the while, Riggan battles to care for his misunderstood and former drug-addict daughter Sam (Stone), and reconcile with his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan).
Soon, Riggan begins to feel hopeless when a powerful theater critic threatens to destroy his play in her review.
His fate rests on the review, which will advance him as an actor and success, or make him forever the Birdman.
Cinematically gorgeous, the film is captured almost entirely in one full camera shot. It pans, twists and turns in such a masterful way, that one hardly notices that it is filmed with one shot. With exquisite timing and near flawless transitions, the effect is bold and striking, an important advancement in the art of filmmaking.
Keaton is a master performer in this film. Riggan’s struggles to feel purpose are easily seen through his emotional gesticulations, and facial expressions. His character is a unique blend of composure, biting sarcasm, and hurt, volatile anger.
In contrast, Birdman, also played by Keaton, explosively and boldly takes to the screen taunting both Riggan and, movie viewers, with their failures.
The rest of the cast includes adroit and complex performances from stars including Stone, Norton, Ryan, Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and Lindsay Duncan.
Birdman shows that there is more to life then prestige and ego, and that hard work and dedication reap good results.