Odds are audiences will notice that Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance doesn’t quite feel like any other film they’ve seen. But they may not be sure why, at first. Constantly in motion, yet contained almost entirely within and around a smallish Broadway theater and a nearby bar, Birdman will feel to them fluid, alive, and ethereal—different from most big screen fare.
It starts with a suicide attempt.
We see Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) cross a bridge in the New York, first on a bike, then on foot, then up and over the chain link fence. She survives, is met by her sister Alexis (Nina Arianda) in the hospital, and is taken home to Connecticut to recuperate. She wants space from her husband, Conor (James McAvoy).
Every few years, we’re treated to the perfect marriage of utterly generic material—usually in the guise of a revenge-style vigilante flick, sometimes with a twist or two thrown in—with a great, Oscar-caliber actor. The best example in recent years is Taken, of course, but The Brave One and Jack Reacher also fit comfortably into this category. The Equalizer, starring Denzel Washington, is firmly rooted in this tradition and the flick delivers exactly what its ad campaign has promised: Denzel stoically, unstoppably kicking butt for the betterment of all mankind.
A few years back, Kevin Smith threw what can only be described as a snit fit regarding the critical reaction to Cop Out (2010). A rather dreadful, wholly generic, and utterly unfunny buddy “comedy” starring Bruce Willis (who reportedly walked all over Smith on set and mailed in his performance) and Tracy Morgan, critics savaged Cop Out.
It’s the simplest things that remind you of film’s primacy as a visual medium, things that simply don’t translate well to the written word: images of leaves of grass blowing in the wind, a subtle shift in lighting that darkens or brightens a mood. We feel these moments more than we actually notice them, letting the beauty or the dread sink into our gut as the images wash over our eyes.