Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a big, bold movie, the kind that takes aesthetic and thematic risks, and that grabs you from frame one and practically screams at you to pay attention. It’s also very convinced of its own cleverness. The film made the rounds at all the prestigious fall festivals, garnering praise and adulation at every stop, and it’s become impossible for anyone to mention it without discussing awards possibilities. Surely this will figure into those races, in many respects justifiably so, but while Birdman is a very good film, even coming near greatness, it’s not necessarily the paradigm shifting, perception altering feature that some have made it out to be. There’s a fine line between genius and pretension, and Birdman walks on both sides. As much as there is to praise, there’s always a ‘but’ looming.
Technically, Birdman is beyond compare. Iñárritu teams cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who lensed Gravity for Alfonso Cuaron last year with incredible results, and who takes his game to an entirely different plateau. Much has been made of how the film is cut together to look like one long take, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This isn’t like Hitchcock’s Rope—a film Iñárritu totally dissed in interviews by the way. Composed of a series of long, intricate shots, meticulously staged and choreographed, it isn’t intended as one extended, continuous moment. You still leap forward in time in bursts and chunks, from one night to the next morning, or from earlier in the day to later in the evening, but the way these shifts are framed and edited is ingenious.