Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Birdman (2014)

It takes a true virtuoso to break the mould of creating a film as a form of entertainment in order to pursue a specific filmmaking technique. Often what results is an art-house piece of nonsense that is so whacky that film critics are reticent to give it a low score in case they have missed the whole point of the last two hours. Then, there's Birdman.

When Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) sets out to make a Broadway play, he is plagued by doubts and haunted by his former cinematic role Birdman. Riggan is assisted by his best friend and lawyer Jake (Zack Galifianakis and daughter Sam (Emma Stone) as the play struggles to make it through previews to the opening night, not helped by Riggan's co-stars Laura (Andrea Riseborough), Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Mike (Edward Norton).

The story itself is a relatively straightforward black comedy - the first such film to win the Academy Award since American Beauty in 2000 - but really the story is secondary to the whole presentation of Birdman, with director Alejandro González Iñárritu so clearly consumed by his other objective.

The technique that Iñárritu pursues filming Birdman is to present it as though it was shot using a single continuous take and, despite genuine laugh-out-loud moments, it is this technique that ultimately ends up being what the audience will take away from the film.

In essence, Birdman is a two-hour flowing dance between actors and camera operator. As actors move around scenes the camera subtly follows, always ensuring that all subjects of a conversation are on show, regardless of how they change place. While the standard practice is to cut between faces of two actors, Iñárritu prove - with absolute effortlessness - how easy it could be to use a single camera.

Despite the tightly controlled choreography, Iñárritu also manages to convey the chaos in the story. Rather than simply ending a calmer moment, Iñárritu has the camera follow the actor out of the room, down tight corridors, before picking up another actor as they walk to their next scene. It is the same chaotic spin of a scene shift in the theatre.

For all its intricate filmmaking - and it truly is a masterclass - one must remember that this still remains a film to be watched and enjoyed beyond its technical feats. The story lives up to its black comedy roots, making you laugh at things you really shouldn't find funny, but beyond that it is not a film I'd recommend to many people. It is an attempt at being clever, whilst having a fairly predictable ending.

Overall then, a truly excellent masterclass in filmmaking, but a film I'd struggle to recommend.

4 stars


  1. Birdman is one of those movies that I'm sure I will like, because I'm always up for appreciating technical filmmaking and Michael Keaton, but I'm never quite in the mood for. One day, one day.


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