Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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

Rated R: (For Strong Language, Minimal Violence and Sensitive Themes)

Running Time: 119 minutes (1 hour and 51 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama, Satire

Released on November 14, 2014 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Writers: Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Nicolas Giacobone and Alejandro G. Inarritu

Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu

  • Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson
  • Edward Norton as Mike Shiner
  • Emma Stone as Sam Thomson
  • Zack Galifianakis as Jake
  • Naomi Watts as Lesley Truman
  • Andrea Riseborough as Laura Aulburn
  • Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha Dickinson
Let's take a break from the superhero world of movies, and let's head to a satirical take on what makes the superhero genre a little bit "unoriginal". Recently, we learned that Michael Keaton was being eyed to be the bad guy in Spider-Man: Homecoming (the Vulture perhaps?). Unfortunately, talks with the actor fell through. Besides, it would have been interesting if he moved from DC to Marvel. In the meantime, let's review a movie which featured one of Michael Keaton's finest performances, one of the most important films in history, and what I would say my third favorite film of all time (the first being Whiplash and the second being Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and that is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

What is the movie about?

Actor Riggan Thomson, played by Keaton (Batman), used to have it all after starring as the superhero Birdman in the big screen. It all went down hill from there, and he now plans on making a comeback in Broadway with his expensive adaptation of What We talk About When We Talk About Love. Standing by his side is his best friend Jake, played by Galifianakis (The Hangover), who is getting more and more worried about Riggan's ambition and the play's costs. His daughter Sam, played by Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man), is estranged from his father because of his growing ego. He also has a girlfriend, co-star Laura Aulburn, played by Riseborough (Never Let Me Go).

His commitment to the play is put to the test when he hires veteran actor Mike Shiner, played by Norton (American History X), whose self-proclaimed expertise and equally obnoxious ego constantly get into Riggan's nerves, even Leslie Truman, played by Watts (While We're Young), his own girlfriend's. In addition, he must try to reconnect with his daughter and prove to a stuffy critic named Tabitha Dickinson, played by Duncan (Alice in Wonderland), that he is worthy of a comeback!

What we think of the film?

Acting = (5/5)

You know it's nice to see Michael Keaton back after so long. The last time I saw him acting was with that RoboCop Remake, but that's best left forgotten. He's such a fine and talented actor, and it's too bad he doesn't get to appear that much movies. Luckily, I am completely wowed and blown away that he can still deliver a handful of quotable lines that are perfectly acted-out as a bitter and middle-aged actor just trying to find relevance in the modern world. Considering his age, I might expect slightly that he is losing some of his charm, (not being age biased though), but this is one of the sharpest and the most poignant acting performances I have ever seen in history and his entire career. Besides, who could forget that "underwear" scene. His role here reminded me a little of his role before as Batman, which is both poetic, nostalgic and ironic when you think about it.

At first glance, it might seem that Emma Stone's role here is just the rebellious daughter cliche, but with careful observation and understanding, this is one of the most important characters in the film. He's not just that character that simply hates his father, but is actually the one that anchors his father to a seemingly unforeseeable hope. Emma Stone is undeniably talented, and she proves how much and how well she can make a thought-provoking monologue, and make it incredibly memorable and unbelievably depressing. Despite her somewhat short screen time, Emma Stone sure did leave a mark in my books.

I've been hearing a lot about Edward Norton taking his acting a little too seriously, even going as far as to rewrite some script elements. If you've been catching-up on his career, you might know his reputation by now, especially with his heavy involvement in The Incredible Hulk writing process. There is this nickname that is often linked to him. Is it the "Shadow Director", I think? I enjoy it that they wrote this role just for him, in a sense. Edward Norton is awesome and extravagant as usual, amazingly portraying an overconfident and self-absorbed method actor, and he surely does one-heck of a job with it!

Despite not being the primary focus of the entire movie, all cast mates have done fantastic jobs for this one of a kind gem. Zack Galifianakis, although I'd usually associate him with more comedic outings, is a great friend for our hero, and has even delivered some funny moments. Naomi Watts has beautiful and humorous chemistry with Edward Norton's Mike Shiner, and Andrea Riseborough is an enigmatic girlfriend. In addition, Lindsay Duncan makes one heck of a critic!

Production Value and Cinematography = (5/5)

The one thing I truly admire from this film is the spectacularly eye-catching cinematography, masterfully done by guru Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked with many creative minds such as Alfonso Cuaron. I have to say, the single-take-like shots are nothing like I have never seen before. It often gives me that astounding feeling that I am actually seeing the entire movie firsthand at the best theater possible.

In addition, Birdman showcases the best of drama without the unnecessary use of computer generated imagery. I enjoy how, most notably, the part when Riggan enters a hallucinatory journey through his past escapades as a superhero. Yeah, they used CGI, but admit  it, that scene is full of heart, depth and meaning. You know what, in general, all scenes featuring Riggan hallucinating his rage through the use of his imaginary powers was suspenseful and brilliant.

Story, Dialogue and Flow = (5/5)

I'm a huge fan of tragedy, not that I enjoy being sad whenever I watch a movie, but I believe it offers something that allows the people to think. It's very rare for me to actually view a "think piece", as I often call films such as these, that actually made me, well, think. The story of a man on a self-destructive path of redemption and glory is no new ground to tread, but the themes applied to the film makes the movie more of a personal reflection on mid-life crisis and living in the side lines.

Regarding the dialogue, it is definitely one of the most quotable scripts I have ever heard. It's everything what a film script should sound like. It fits-in with the themes. In some cases, it would make you cry because you might just realize how much the film makes you remember. It might even make you smile because it reminds of how humanity can be relatable. Okay, I might be getting a little too deep here. Let's just say it is one of the best scripts I have ever known. Let's not forget this is one of the many films that had a very great monologue (Boy, I sure hope that I added that one to a previous countdown.), delivered through one of the finest performances in the movie. Oh wait, I already mentioned that, didn't I?

Okay I'll admit that in some cases the movie would be kind of dragging, because of the necessary exposition. But hey, they still delivered some fun lines.

Ending, Originality and Story Fulfillment = (5/5)

I'll get to the ending later, but let's first talk about its originality. Like I said before, this "man-in-the-room" story, as director Paul Schrader calls them, tackles nothing new. In fact, these themes in particular have originated from William Shakespeare's popular works. But honestly, who cares? Nobody said anything wrong about being inspired by other proceeded works. It technically doesn't count as stealing. Besides, the inspiration and love for the tragic genre is very evident here. It's bittersweet, it's though-provoking and above all full of heart. These three define what Birdman is.

Now onto the ending. Honestly, given that most of Riggan's problems eventually ended up becoming happy by its resolution, it's hard to believe that the ending is uniquely twisted in a good way. When the film finally cuts for the first time, as the audience applaud ironically, we learn that his little suicide attempt on-stage became an acting phenomenon, and it also costed his nose. After some rekindling with his daughter, Riggan jumps out through a hospital window, only for Sam to smile as she sees something levitating in the sky. The ending is truly ambiguous, and in my own interpretation, it meant that he finally became the hero that he was meant to be. That alone made me think, and at that moment, it made me love this film.

Overall, I'd give this movie a huge yes, and it is a must-watch for people, mostly adults, who are in the mid-life crisis period, or for those who are trying to be "relevant" despite the challenges, because this surely is the film that will give you hope in the smallest ways.

Overall Evaluation = (5/5)

This movie is phenomenal. Period.

TOTAL = 25/25 (Masterpiece)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a perfectly cooked cinematic marvel, elevated by a one-of-a-kind cinematography that you rarely see from mainstream movies and a story that satirizes how unoriginal films have become, while showcasing the cast and the director's brilliance.

Boy, revisiting this movie gave me all kinds of optimism and excitement for what some of the "below radar" film would offer. It's sad that Michael Keaton decided to bail from Marvel. It would have been amazing to see him soar (no pun intended.) through the big-screen like never before. Oh well, the early bird gets the worm. Wait, how's that related here?


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