Editor’s Note: This review was intentionally written with long winding sentences to mirror cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s oner.
“Birdman’s” director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki give new meaning to “theatre in the round.” In one scene in Iñárritu and Lubezki’s Oscar-winning picture, the camera circles around a group of actors on stage, rehearsing a scene from the impending off-Broadway Raymond Carver production, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
The camera circles several times, bringing us up close and personal to the faces of Naomi Watts, Jeremy Shamos, Andrea Riseborough and Michael Keaton — actors who play actors in a movie about theatre. The film’s ironically subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” but writers Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo are not ignorant to art. Iñárritu, Giacobone and Bo were also on the writing team of Iñárritu’s last Oscar-nominated picture, “Biutiful” (2010).
Their film is beautifully precise — taking the viewer from dressing rooms through winding corridors and down stairs to the stage. The camera moves through open windows giving us aerial views and low angle time-lapses of sunrises over towering buildings. In one scene, the camera even moves through time — from a shot of Keaton looking at a mirror to a dream sequence to a memory of what could have been weeks or months ago.
Scenes begin where others ends — making the entire film feel as if it were shot in one long continuous take. In reality, there are 16 visible cuts in the film and “Birdman” was edited in two weeks after a two month filming process.
While Lubezki’s dizzying cinematography and Iñárritu’s exacting direction makes this film soar, “Birdman” satirical script gives us another layer of “super realism.” Keaton’s cast as Riggan Thomson, an actor famous for his portrayal of Birdman in the superhero movie franchise. Keaton himself starred as Batman once upon a time.
Meanwhile, Edward Norton, a serious method actor who plays a well-known theatre personality named Mike Shiner, also stars as a parody of himself. Norton’s notorious for being difficult to work with, even “shadow directing” films he’s starred in. In one scene of “Birdman’s” self-aware script, Shiner’s seen directing actor/director Thomson’s character. Ironically, Norton gave Iñárritu his own two cents about the scene with Keaton.
This play’s both personal and intimate (it’s about love, after all). And as the show goes on, Keaton gets naked — both figuratively and literally — lending more and more of himself to his characters. The division between reality and imagination blend until you don’t know what’s real anymore.
That’s the blessing about the play, writes theatre-critic-at-large Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan):
“Thompson has unwittingly given birth to a new form, which can only be described as super-realism… The blood that has been sorely missing from the veins of American theatre.”
One thing’s for sure: you’ve never seen theatre like this before.
“Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. The film won four Academy Awards including for Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.