A film deserving of it’s Oscar wins: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I REALLY didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).  The premise of the film had certainly caught my interest; Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a has-been actor looking to rejuvenate his career by staging his first broadway production, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The film is a black-comedy that focuses on Riggan’s inner dilemma as he searches for meaning in his production, his relationship with his dysfunctional family, and himself. What immediately stands out about director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is the obvious connection between Riggan and Michael Keaton himself. Riggan was catapulted to fame following the success of three blockbusters, in which he played the legendary superhero ‘Birdman’. Starting to sound at all familiar? While only having starred in two Batman films, Michael Keaton certainly appears ideal for the role of Riggan.

BIRDMAN_gallery_cover_photoThe story itself takes place largely in and around the theatre in which Riggan’s play is staged. Much of the film is centered on Riggan and his eternal inner conflict about just how relevant he remains as an actor. This conflict is really brought out by Riggan’s interactions with fellow cast members Mike (Edward Norton), Laura (Andrea Riseborough), and Lesley (Naomi Watts). Backstage there are some equally compelling characters: Riggan’s estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and his lawyer and friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis). The chemistry between all of the above characters is undeniable, leading to some powerful dialogue that at times masterfully evokes drama, humour, and above all emotion. I’d go on to further describe each character’s merits and quirks, but I feel that due to the personal and involving nature of Birdman, it is best to discover for yourself.

Having acted on stage a lot myself, I was completely enthralled by Birdman. For anyone that knows the ins-and-outs of a theatre production, I could not recommend this film more. It is hard to effectively describe how Alejandro González Iñárritu manages to blur his film together with the play it revolves around, but this fusion lies at the heart of Birdman. Iñárritu set out on the project with an ambitious idea, to create the film with as few different camera shots as possible. The result does not come across as even remotely gimmicky, as I imagine was a potent concern for him. While there are obviously a number of different shots throughout the film, the majority is comprised of long filming takes that follow Riggan and the other characters around the theatre. This one-take technique seems to be an increasingly popular method, the recent HBO hit-series True Detective featured a ten-minute continuous action scene shot in one take. The merit of such a method is that it makes the viewing experience extremely personal. We come to know each part of the theatre intimately, while the drama itself feels incredibly including.

By utilizing such a method of cinematography, Iñárritu has created something special with Birdman. I found the viewing experience not dissimilar to watching a staged theatre production of a bedroom farce, with fresh twists emerging between the characters at every turn. Because the continuous camera shot only shows us one part of the drama at a time, I found myself completely glued to the film but in a way that felt wholly more involved than your average flick. The edge of your seat nature of Birdman is further reinforced by a fantastic musical score. As the story unfolds to us, the tension between characters and events is underscored by a pounding crescendo of drums that offer a novel but compelling soundtrack.

I could not recommend Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) any more highly.Birdman From the look-and-feel of the film, to the tense characterization and phenomenal acting, Birdman is a truly novel entry in the film industry. The characters played by Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone stand out especially, and were all Oscar nominated for their respective performances. The film received Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography, emerging alongside The Grand Budapest Hotel as the leader of the Academy Awards.  While I feel that those with knowledge of theatre will gain most from this film, it can certainly be enjoyed by anyone. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu conveys a wonderful story while also paying references to the Press and critics, the viral spread of media online, and the stagnation of the industry. The film has some great laughs but also manages to play out as a serious drama, whilst also including some fairly abstract scenes that will certainly provoke debate and reflection among the audience. Having been nominated for nine Academy Awards and winning four, I can see Birdman being an important film for the industry for years to come and will certainly remain memorable to me.

“This play is kind of starting to feel like a miniature, deformed version of myself that just keeps following me around” – Riggan Thomson