Birdman (or The Unexpected Value of Ignorance) - Depressing Brilliance - Art House Rating: 4 stars

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players 
                                     William Shakespeare  

Walking into the cinema...

Birdman has the critics raving... That is usually a deterrent for people to go to see a film. Critical acceptance is usually code for 'art film'. Too bad, because this film looks like a masterpiece. The question has to be, can Michael Keaton carry this film? 

Art House* rating: 4 stars
Family rating: This film is for mature audiences only. It has mature themes and language that should be taken into consideration before viewing.          

       Riggan Thomas () is a world renowned actor who played the iconic super hero know as "The Birdman." It provided him the opportunity to live out his dreams of acting and brought his life an enviable fame. Eventually the fame and fortune disappeared and he attempts to get his career back on track. Ultimately, he wants the respect of the thespian community and hopes to achieve it by directing and acting in the classic Broadway dramatic play called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". The weekend premiere is coming up and the live previews are underway, but the real drama of Birdman is behind the curtain. The lead actor for the play is injured and his replacement is the brilliant method actor, Mike Shiner (). Mike is a blessing and a curse to Riggan and Brandon Vander Hay (), his lawyer, business partner and friend. Shiner is a master craftsman and his presence helps to boost ticket sales, but he brings the self-absorbed baggage of method acting.  Adding to the drama of the production, Riggan wrestles with his theatrical alter-ego, the challenge of his washed up daughter, Sam (), the disdain of an influential critic and the minutia of managing this disastrous stage production. As with many great theatrical events, the behind the stage antics of the players and stage crew lead to disaster after disaster. Riggan's life and the production are a mess, but he has to do all that he can to salvage both through this play
       Seeing Birdman causes a love/hate cinematic response.  (Babel, 21 Grams) does an masterful work of storytelling. His style has the European flare and brilliance that is not too often experienced in American cinema. Shooting the film as one long take was risky, but added to the tension of the production. He was able to draw from the energy of the theatre and the desperation of the actors. The visual experience was accentuated by the tension of the actors having to deliver their lines and hit their marks.  This level of intensity that cannot be manufactured in this era of over-production and excessive editing. Keaton and Norton were at their acting best. Even though they do not admit to an autobiographical nature of the story, their ability to draw from their real life career experiences adds a depth to their performances. Galifianakis gave the performance of his career and represented the glue that holds the story together. His performance added the needed humour and balance to the combustible lead characters. Naomi Watts and Emma Stone held their own in the tension filled, claustrophobic atmosphere of the  small theatre. The styling and acting brought forth an engrossing balance of the tragedy and the comedy of live theatre.   
        The styling and story were brilliant, but they also were the reason for the disdain for this film.  reaches into the darkest recesses of the human experience and exposes all of the good and bad in humanity. Whenever a director exposes the unenviable existence of actors and what they do to achieve greatness in their field, it sucks the joy out of the cinematic experience. It equates to watching sausage being made, the process makes the product less appealing. Looking deep into the lives of the actors shows the audience that all of humankind wrestles with the same issues of envy and the need for love and acceptance. Also, this film shows the emptiness that can occur when one achieves them. Not that reality is bad, but this film crosses into uncomfortable depths. Every turn of the camera gives the feeling of travelling through Riggan's thoughts. Each corner brings to light something that adds a less than desirable experience.  Just when you think that the story could not get any worse, it does. The film contains a brilliance and freshness in cinema, but draws out a despair that should remain in the shadows. If you enjoy being faced with the harsh realities of the world, Birdman is the film for you, but it will not appeal to those seeking an enjoyable cinematic escape. The challenge in seeing this film was to consider where identity, hope and love can truly be found. It is the only means of pulling yourself out of the depression that will engulf your life after seeing this film. 

Leaving the cinema...
Birdman is a true art house experience. The artistry cannot be denied, but the message is hopeless. The direction and acting pushed the performers to new heights in their careers, but the story will push the audience into undesired depths.

Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 
1. Where do we find our identity? (Genesis 1:27, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
2. How far should we go to achieve our goals? (Proverbs 21:5, Philippians 3:14)
3. Where can you find hope in this despairing world? (Deuteronomy 31:6, Romans 12:12) 

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Art House Russelling Review

*A film intended to be a serious artistic work, often experimental and not designed for mass appeal. These reviews will be focused on the artistic side of the the cinematic experience. The majority of these films will be for mature audiences.