Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Up next, Sam and Vig take a look at the Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu’s critically acclaimed black-comedy Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone, Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman follows washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), famously known for playing “Birdman”, as he attempts to re-invent himself as a director by putting on a classic Broadway drama. However, when opening night goes terribly, Riggan must scramble to find a replacement lead actor. Along with the actor, Riggan must juggle the set, his daughter, and a critic who threatens to shut down the show. Overwhelmed with the disaster, Riggan attempts to overcome his struggle to successfully put up aplay and shed his status as a washed up actor.

9.5 out of 10

Being a man of the theater and someone who hopes to go into the business later in life, I was enthralled by Birdman. Not only were the technical aspects spot on, but the themes were interesting and the overall execution was unique, yet perfect. 

Part of what makes Birdman so brilliant is the characters. Every character is original, spontaneous and highly entertaining, and each feature their own way of keeping us interested. Edward Norton was hilarious and even more so into it than his character (a method actor) was. It’s good to see him back at it after a stretch of meaningless performances. Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan were all great as well, and the way the movie gave every individual some sort of storyline raised the overall stakes and kept us interested. Keaton though, as Riggan Thomas, was the shining star. Essentially playing himself in some light (Batman was only three years before the fictional Birdman), Keaton’s struggle with finding a purpose, mixed with hearing the voice of fictional Birdman every corner he turned, acted as a perfect anchor for this film to move around. Riggan Thomas was funny, insane, and driven to revive his pitiful self, setting Keaton up to be one of the best actor candidates to watch this year.

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The camera work, in my opinion, was stunning. The cinematography was worked in a way that the entire film appeared to be one continuous shot. It all looked very fluid, one scene moving directly to another. I was never able to take my eye off the film simply because it never gave me a chance. While this is not always necessarily a good thing, in this case, the strong dialogue and lack of action allowed the non-stop camera to be extremely effective. As a result, the slips between reality and fantasy were all the more convincing.


The lighting was also manipulated very well to set the tone to however would fit what Riggan was thinking or feeling. For example, the first scene with Mike Shiner (Norton) uses lighting to make Shiner intimidating. The lighting is dim and eerie, and rarely illuminates Riggan. Instead it portrays Mike as a superior talent. Additionally, when Riggan is depressed, the lighting is dim. When he feels resurgent, like in the final scene, the lights are brighter and more hopeful. The lighting is subtle yet powerful in making the message so powerful.

And that message is what drives the film home. The film is a satire on the modern day blockbuster extravaganza and seriously questions the artistic integrity of the actors who star in these films. The decline of true art and the rise of mega action blockbusters is questioned throughout Birdman, specifically calling out Robert Downey Jr., Michael Fassbender, and Jeremy Renner. Don’t get me wrong, I love comic book movies, but the movie’s take on what true artistic talent is– passion-driven motivation– is a breath of fresh air.

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There is no doubt Birdman is a weirdass movie. It can, at times, appear to be a load of pretentious, loopy, bull-crap. But all of this loopiness, presented in the form of Michael Keaton speaking to an imaginary superhero and flying around New York City, gives Keaton his character and the film an awe-inspiring touch. Despite its tendency to seem overly surreal at many points, Birdman is smartly written, curiously crafted, and a straight up entertaining piece of film-making.

6.5 out of 10

There were a lot of identifiably “interesting” aspects of Birdman.

The lighting was interesting. The coloring of the film varied from intense, almost monochrome blues, greens, and reds in the theater to the sparkling neon and black of Broadway at night, all the while maintaining a surreal brightness that somehow reminded me of jell-o.

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The camera choices were interesting. Many of the shots moved. In a typical scene, the camera would go from a side view of two people, and then spin to have only one person in the frame and then gradually go very close to the single subject, all in one motion. This rare, fluid type of filming had a strange, almost dizzying effect. The cinematographer also added to this disorienting feeling by occasionally filming characters in an way that resembled a fish eye lens.

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The melting of reality and fiction was interesting. The film starts with the main character, Riggan (Michael Keaton), hovering, cross-legged, in his tighty whities, a couple feet off the floor. As the film progresses Riggan reveals his ability to perform more and more spectacular feats, be it getting a light to fall in a theater, or flying over New York City. The film makers leave it up to the audience members to decided what is real and what is fake, although towards the end it definitely appears as if most of these powers are figments of Riggan’s imagination.
A main theme of the film is that people have an unsatisfied desire to be valued and important, and Riggan’s imagined super powers were a childish way to make him feel special and above everyone else (literally). Although the idea of self worth is an pertinent one that many of us can relate to, Riggan’s battle for importance quite honestly bored me. From an intellectual standpoint I feel I should care, but a self absorbed man throwing chairs around his dressing room is simply bland. I found the interactions between Sam (Emma Stone) and Mike (Edward Norton) infinitely more interesting, because it was an exciting situation between two original characters, which kept your interest while making you mildly think, rather than simply forcing an idea about the human condition down your throat. And yet, Sam and Mike’s story was a side plot at best, and was forgotten about when it was time for Riggan’s explosive inner struggle to take the full stage.

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The exploration of the eternal struggle for truth in acting was another redeeming factor of the movie. The battles the actors of the play went through to make their performances real were poignant and interesting. However, ironically, the film itself overall didn’t feel particularly truthful. [Spoiler] There were many plot points where the audience thought Riggan was going to die and then he was miraculously saved, which just seemed like the screenwriters toying with my emotions. All of the “interesting” aspects of the movie, from the lighting to the camera movement to the blending of fiction and reality, didn’t feel as if they were a natural part of the movie. It was done in such a way that all I could think of was some camera man meticulously planning his shots out just to be different. It didn’t feel organic, but rather an added bonus to give more pazzaz. It’s difficult to branch into the more “artistic” side of movie making, and I’m glad Birdman tried, but somehow the jigsaw didn’t fall quite into place, and the film ended up feeling a bit like a middle schooler trying to be avant garde.

Like Birdman? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below


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