Friday, November 28, 2014

The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (or Birdman) (a movie review post)

Remember the 80s and how Michael Keaton was "the man"? My first Keaton movie was Mr. Mom; now, thinking about it, I want to see it again. He was perfect in the role as this rather disheveled husband shoved into being the stay at home dad. He had this persistent look of panic that was appropriate.

But then came Tim Burton's Batman, and the look shifted from "panic" to "vacant," which really wasn't appropriate for Batman. He failed completely to pull off a believable Bruce Wayne, the reason he was chosen for the role. Then after Batman... well... nothing. For a long time. Nothing "real," at any rate.

All of that to say that on a certain level I love this movie for the sole reason of having Michael Keaton as Riggan. It brings with it a certain amount of awesome. But he was also excellent in the role. He brought with him just the right amount of desperation to make you wonder wether Riggan is completely sane or not, something necessary for the film to work. In fact, it's this question that elevates the movie from just being about a washed up actor trying to revitalize his career to being a great magical realism story. Keaton was terrific.

In fact, all of the cast were great. Some of them in the ways they normally are, like Emma Stone and Amy Ryan, but a couple of them really stood out.

Zach Galifianakis did not do his normal eccentric weirdo; instead, he was a rather fretful lawyer too heavily invested in Riggan's show. He did a good job. A really good job. If he wasn't so physically distinctive, I might not have known who he was.

But the real surprise of the show was Edward Norton. I should point out that I am not a fan of Norton. At best, I find him annoying. Rarely do I find that he lives up to his own vaunted opinion of himself. Okay, never do I find that he lives up to his opinion of himself. Except this time. His first scene is priceless and I have to think intended as a bit of self-mockery. Whatever it was, it was genius. His portrayal of Mike, a character who can only really be human when he's onstage (not a good human, mind you, but that's the only place he becomes real), is amazing. I would actually love to see Norton pull a best supporting actor nomination for this.

The camerawork is worth noting, too. It has a continuous flow to it leaving you to feel as if you are moving along with the actors, possibly stopping to glance at things that grab your attention along the way. It's not always a smooth flow, lending to the feeling of walking with the actors. The change of character perspective is often accomplished by two of the characters running into each other and the camera following the new character when the two separate.

If you want something with a clear story and no unanswered questions, though, this is not your movie. There are pervasive questions about what is real and what is imagined, and the movie doesn't really answer those. Or even try to. It's the kind of film that will leave you questioning and wanting to see it again just to see if you missed anything. Or to see the Keaton/Norton scenes again. Or to figure out the jellyfish. That's the one I want to know, so, yeah, I'm going to need to see it again.


  1. I like a movie that leaves me with questions and is good enough to go back and watch a second time.

    I'm with you on Keaton's career. It's nice to see he's back to work and on a quality project.

  2. I'd like to see that movie. I thought Keaton was OK in the Batman movies, especially by comparison with the competition, at least until Christian Bale. Nailed it!

  3. I don't remember anything about the 80s, but I was shown classics like Batman. I've seen Keaton pop up from time to time, but I think this is the first movie besides Batman that I've wanted to see that he's been in. And I have no problems with unanswered questions.

  4. Anne: It is nice to see him back. I mean, he almost got derailed by Lohan in the Herbie re-boot flop, but he was really good in the Robocop re-boot (even if the movie was only average). I'm glad he's taken a step away from re-boots, too.

    Pat: Keaton was okay as Batman but he ended up making a horrible Bruce Wayne.

    Jeanne: What about Beetlejuice? I think everyone but me loves that one.

  5. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!! He was awesome in that one! I'm not a fan of unanswered questions, but you've piqued my interest. Thanks for the review and have a great weekend!

  6. I loved Mr. Mom! That's a movie I had totally forgotten about till right now.
    I'm not a Batman fan, so I've never seen that one.
    What about that movie...I'm sure it was Michael Keaton....he played three different characters...I think he was supposed to have been cloned or something...hmmm..maybe it wasn't him, but anyway that movie had it's moments (whatever it was!)
    I really want to see Birdman. I've heard awesome things about it.

  7. Lexa: You have a great weekend, too!

    Eva: I have no idea what movie you're talking about, but I don't think it was a Keaton movie. Is that something recent? Maybe that Gyllenhaal movie?

  8. Sounds like fun. My favorite Michael Keaton role is Dogberry in Much Ado. As for Norton, he's up and down for me but the first time I saw him, in Primal Fear, he blew me away.

  9. Your review is good. I've seen some other Keaton movies I've liked, but the only title that comes to me is Beetlejuice (I hope I spelled that correctly). Edward Norton is okay, but not a favorite of mine. His hoarse voice is unappealing.


  10. TAS: I haven't seen Primal Fear, but I have seen that production of Much Ado. I don't remember it well, though.

    Janie: They're a good combo in this.

  11. I love Michael Keaton. He did a great job in "The Other Guys." I wrote a piece on The Best Of Everything saying that he should take over playing God in movies, as he's perfect for the kind of God we need in movies right now.

    I really want to see this movie.

    I read a review where they said the camerawork looks like all one take and nobody's sure if it's really that or not. I like behind-the-scenes stuff like that.

  12. This looks like a really interesting movie! I hadn't heard of it... I'll have to check it out. :)

  13. Briane: I don't remember him from The Other Guys, although I enjoyed the movie.

    I never got that "all in one take" impression, although I can see where the camera work could seem that way.

    Alex H: You should.

  14. Highly recommend Primal Fear! One of the unexpected film pleasures of my life.