Review: ‘Birdman’ flies high as smart satire

Bob Galuski, Editor-in-Chief

Fair warning to anybody with misconceptions about what exactly is “Birdman: Or, the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”:

1. The film is not a sequel to “Batman,” or any of “The Dark Knight” films.

2. There are no robots swooping in to save earth from some calamity caused by other robots, which, in turn, will cause the destruction of an entire city. And finally;

3. Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of the Avengers do not have a role in the film.

However, this tightly wrapped, independent film by Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”) morphs into a self-aware satire that pokes fun at every aspect of modern filmmaking.

From its startling opening to its tender last few moments, “Birdman” soars on creative levels across the board.

More than 20 years ago, Riggen Thompson (Michael Keaton, “Batman;” “Batman Returns”), played the iconic superhero Birdman in three mega-blockbusters.

After leaving the franchise, he has wandered through life aimlessly.

Now, in a desperate bid to get back in the spotlight, he decides to write, direct and star in an updated version of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Propelled by voices of himself as the superhero, Thompson puts everything he has into the play, especially when Hollywood star Mike Shiner (“The Bourne Legacy”) signs on, rendering Thompson broke.

The film sits as a dark comedy, but in the underlying tones, there is a real theme of desperation and the need to be liked.

Keaton’s performance and the film as a whole are Academy Award worthy, and if any of it wins, it will be the biggest piece of irony, as those kind of awards is what “Birdman” rallies against.

Stuck in the modern world where superheroes rule the silver screen, “Birdman” takes no prisoners. Actors, directors, producers and fans — they’re all on the chopping block as “Birdman” takes off.

Whether it is Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or the producers begging Thompson’s return to the feathered suit, just for a few bucks more, “Birdman” calls them all out on their effects on the modern world. Iñárritu’s film is a bizarre blend of practical and impractical.

His direction jars the audience from a simple indie film into a big-picture blockbuster in the matter of seconds.

Which, in most cases, would leave the audience confused, maybe disoriented, but for “Birdman” the reasoning works extremely well.

And of course you can’t talk about “Birdman” without mentioning the unique cinematography.

Emmanuel Lubezki, the film’s cinematographer, gives “Birdman” one continuous long-take throughout the whole film.

Never breaking scenes up, or jumping, the film follows the characters in and around the theater they’re performing and rehearsing.

A truly brilliant cinematic move, the cinematography adds to the layers of depth seen in the film.

And during this long take, we see the biggest variety of characters, acted by some of the best.

Norton’s Mike is a narcissistic alcoholic, who only believes in acting to the point where he can only be aroused if it is necessary for the scene, not real life.

Straying away from his usual stoic faced, dry characters, such as his roles in “Pride and Glory” and “The Bourne Legacy,” Norton gives one of his most real performances of his career.

And with Emma Stone (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) at his side, playing Sam Thompson, Keaton’s fresh out of rehab, spunky daughter-slash-assistant, their chemistry is uncontrollable.

The usually sweet, innocent Stone gives the world a twist as she steps onto the rooftop of the theater to engage in one of the weirdest versions of Truth or Dare with Norton.

Playing an unrecognizable role is Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover” Trilogy) as Thompson’s best friend and lawyer.

As someone who has continually played the patsy in films, it was a refreshing take to see Galifianakis play the straight man to Keaton’s outrageous antics as his desperation mounts.

But, really, it is Keaton who steals the show as the self-aware actor trying to bring himself out of the brink of being forgotten by a world that has moved on so far away from his early days.

A self-obsessed man who only sees one goal, the film is Keaton’s most inspiring, and his character will soon join the pantheon of great roles he’s already taken on, such as Batman and Beetlejuice.

Sprawling and epic, tight and succinct, “Birdman” takes the satire genre for a wild ride as it explores the dark realities of the world and price of show business.

This will by far be the film people are talking about the most come Oscar season, and for years after it has already taken flight.

Bob Galuski is a senior English major. He can be reached at 518-2812 or at [email protected].