Birdman DVD Review

DVD Review by Jon E Clist

The Premise
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.

The Review
For the past year I have certainly thought that Michael Keaton was making a run at a comeback however his role choices we such that he was really having a bad go at it. RobocopNeed For Speed, need I say more? Keaton had a massive start to his career with his breakthrough performance in the 1982 Night Shift, which in turn led him on to some awesome opportunities with Batman and Beetlejuice. For a little while he was on a box office roll and was fast becoming the go to guy for comedy. Not exactly sure what happened but in the early 00’s things began to slow down for him with the exception of voicing the character of Ken in the Toy Story films. A little side note for you: Michael Keaton’s real name is Michael Douglas.

Anyway Keaton is back with Birdman in a role that can only be described as excellent. This is the sort of role and performance that as an actor you would dream of. I think that this is the case of an actor being open and ready to bare everything in capturing a role, while the director is very focused on the outcome he wants. Before shooting began, director Alejandro González Iñárritu sent his cast a photo of Philippe Petit walking on the tightrope between the Twin Towers. He told them, "Guys, this is the movie we are doing. If we fall, we fail".

When you consider that the majority of the film is set in a theatre and hence was largely shot inside Broadway's St. James Theatre. Michael Keaton and the rest of the cast had to adapt to Alejandro González Iñárritu's rigorous shooting style, which required them to perform up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time while hitting precisely choreographed marks. While watching the film you certainly got the feeling that some of the scenes would have taken plenty of takes and a lot of preparation and practice. Considering it was shot in less than a month, this would have been no easy feat.

Keaton and Alejandro González Iñárritu
However it could have been worse, as the director’s original vision was to do the entire film in one take. According to Iñárritu, he had dinner with another director (Mike Nichols) in New York two weeks before he began shooting the movie. Iñarritu told Nichols of his plan for how he was going to shoot the movie as one long take. Nichols predicted it would be a disaster because not having the ability to use cuts in editing would inhibit the opportunities for comedy. Inarritu said the meeting didn't deter him, but was instead helpful in raising his awareness level of the difficulty of what he was about to do. You can see in Birdman that plenty of editing a camera tricks have been utilised in order to give it the one shot feel and although I haven’t studied film making and could not name these tricks, they are very effective in putting together a great film.

Of course it is not just Keaton that shines in this film. The supporting cast is brilliant. There certainly has been some clever casting here in order to make the characters quite believable. I was reminded how great the use of Robert Downey Jnr was in the role of Iron Man due to the similarities between his own life and that of the character. A playboy destroying his life and getting a second chance to re-invent himself. The same could be said not only of Keaton here with his look back to Batman and his characters look back to Birdman, plus there is Edward Norton in his role as a hard to work with ego maniac of an actor. Rumour has it that he is like this in real life.

One of my favourite scenes in the film involves Riggan (Keaton) walking through Times Square in his white y-Fronts. Apparently it was filmed after midnight so that the amount of real bystanders caught on camera in the shot would be limited, and that the majority of people in frame are hired extras or crew members.

The Verdict
My pick for the best film of the year so far with the opportunity to even stay in that place for most of the year. Well worth seeing…

The Trailer

The Info
DVD Releases: 11th June 2015
Rating: R16 – Contains Violence, sexual references, offensive language & drug use
Duration: 119 minutes 
Genre:  Black Comedy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Edward Norton
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful, Babel)

The Extras
Michael Keaton said this movie was the most challenging he has ever done. He also said that the personality of his character Riggan is the most dissimilar to himself of any he has ever played.

Given the unusual style of filming long takes, Edward Norton and Michael Keaton kept a running tally of flubs made by the actors. Emma Stone made the most mistakes, Zach Galifianakis made the fewest.

During the press conference in Riggan's dressing room, he says that he hasn't played Birdman since 1992. That's the same year Batman Returns (1992) was released, as well as being the last Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.