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Movie Review: “Birdman” Never Leaves the Roost

By Chad Alexander

“Birdman” tells the story of an actor who once portrayed a superhero but gave up that life to go on a more fulfilling artistic journey by performing a play based on Raymond Carver’s work. Except, the whole fulfilling part is the opposite, with sorrow, depression and anger. The actor continually finds himself battling with himself and his validation in the world.

“Birdman” didn’t soar as high as I thought it would, especially for a film with an Oscar best picture win. I found it a struggle to get through the movie, due to the depravity of the characters.

Acting
Michael Keaton does an excellent job of playing Riggan Thompson, the troubled former superhero actor. Thompson is a pathetic character, who attempts to atone for being a bad father and a worse husband. There are sweet little moments were he tries to say he’s sorry. However, those plans get derailed when he cares only about making his play a hit on Broadway. He struggles to make it big again, and to make a name for himself beyond his superhero character Birdman.

Edward Norton and Emma Stone received Oscar nominations for their roles in the film (Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress). They seemed good enough for the parts, but there is no closure with their characters. The third act of the film dives more into Thompson’s depression and his rise above it.

Sound
If you are expecting a moving soundtrack or an epic score, you won’t find either in “Birdman.” Antonio Sanchez’ score is minimalistic, relying on a serious of drumbeats or low-key jazz to convey beats in the film. It’s jarring, much like Thompson’s life. To me, music should complement a film or even help propel an emotion into your consciousness. The director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, likes scores not to convey emotion. The score almost works against the film in that aspect, giving us an uncomfortable beat that trumps the wonderfully written dialogue. I guess that is my biggest complaint with the sound — every piece of dialogue should be forefront but sometimes in “Birdman,” it is overshadowed by an obnoxious drumbeat.

Cinematography
It is nothing sort of a wonderful feat that most of the film is one continuous take — or so the audience thinks. This style transports us into Thompson’s stream of consciousness, where sometimes things are never seen behind the camera. The only problem with this approach is that audiences never truly get a chance to stop and examine the beauty of the continuous shot. Sure, there are transitions from day to night, as well as using darkness or a focused shot to mask a cut. However, the fact that the film has no cuts makes the film feel like a nightmare. There’s no logical way for audiences to relax their eyes. That’s why we have eyelids, so we can reset our look on an object, maybe looking at it from a closer view. “Birdman” almost seems like “Cloverfield” or “The Blair Witch Project,” in that there is no focus during the film.

I’m not saying there isn’t great camera work in the film. I think the way the story is presented is brilliant. However, just to perform one continuous take for the whole film makes it feel gimmicky and cheap, much like Thompson’s life. I believe there should have been pauses to match the aforementioned beats in the film, and give audiences time to meditate on Thompson’s poor state of affairs. After all, Thompson as Birdman does bring up that dull audiences only like big explosion, high intensity blockbusters. The take doesn’t make you comfortable. It’s a struggle, much like Thompson’s career.

Sets/Locations
The playhouse’s hues during the film contrast with blues and reds, and the lighting conveys emotions. Thompson is empty under the blue light. He’s remorseful and bitter. It’s these layers that give the playhouse dimension. The behind-the-scenes of the production gives the film a look into the actor’s lives, and drives the narrative.

Conclusion
“Birdman” is a struggle. It’s a struggle for Riggan Thompson to move beyond superhero to credible actor. It was also a struggle for me on this rocky ride. From the great acting to the continuous camerawork, “Birdman” is an acquired taste, just like a superhero film.

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” won:
– Best Motion Picture of the Year, Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole
– Best Achievement in Directing, Alejandro González Iñárritu
– Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
– Best Achievement in Cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezki

Do you agree with Chad’s review of “Birdman?” Tell us about it in the comments.

Chad Alexander is a mild-mannered government contractor by day and a pretty normal sleeper by night. He has been dedicated to freelance writing for the last decade — writing scripts, short stories, and blogging in his spare time. He reads constantly, plays board games in his spare time, and enjoys a fine 20 oz of Cherry Coke whenever he’s feeling dangerous.

Read more: Movie Reviews by Chad Alexander

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing writer’s are their own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Fredericksburg.Today.

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