HIGH FLYING BIRD
Starring André Holland, Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn, Zachary Quinto, Kyle MacLachlan and Bill Duke
Screenplay by Tarrell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Out of Four
Reviewed by Patrick Gibbs
Despite a brief period of supposed retirement from features from 2013 to 2017, Steven Soderbergh is the only Oscar Winning director whose output threatens to rival Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood. As an artist, he's like a basketball player who takes the shot every time he gets possession of the ball: occasionally, he scores big (Traffic, Erin Brockavich, Ocean's 11, Logan Lucky). But in between every shot he sinks,, there are a lot of shots that just bounce off the backboard, if they even come that close. Unfortunately,his latest effort High Flying Bird, is hardly a slam dunk.
Set during a pro basketball lockout, High Flying Bird follows sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) as he finds himself caught in the face-off between the NBA and the players. Ray wants his clients to know that he is firmly on the side of the players, like freshman Erick (Melvin Gregg), who has been drafted by an unnamed New York team. Due to the lockout, Erick isn't receiving any salary, and he’s taken out a bad loan to get him through the interim. Erick may know what he's doing on the court, but he's lost when it comes to "the game on top of the game", which is where Ray comes in: the agent is not only a streetwise expert, but more importantly, he's the lead character in a movie.
But Ray’s agency is starting to feel the adverse effects of the lockout as well, and his smarmy young white boss boss (Zachary Quinto) drops the bomb that Ray’s salary and expense accounts have all been suspended until the dispute between the league and the players is resolved.
|André Holland as Ray Burke.|
(Image Courtesy Netflix)
|Zazie Beetz as Sam.|
(Image Courtesy Netflix)
Holland is a gifted actor with a lot of presence, and his brief supporting turn in Moonlight was perhaps the most underrated performance of 2017. It's nice to see him in a lead role, but the fact is that we never feel nearly as invested in Ray as need to be for this film to work, and Deadpool 2's delightful Zazie Beetz slides by strictly on charm. There are no characters here, only vague templates of character types.
The themes of race, money and power, both in modern sports and the long and shady history of the industry, are complex and could not be more relevant at this time. The questions raised here are so worthwhile and the sentiment so heartfelt that it makes High Flying Bird a worthwhile endeavour if it sparks discussion and leads to more artists taking on the subject matter. For this reason, it's hard not to feel good will toward the movie. But as the film ends, with Beetz' Sam (Ray's ex-assistant) engrossed in reading Harry Edwards book The Revolt of the Black Athlete, it only punctuates the already very present feeling that High Flying Bird didn't even scratch the surface.
This is hardly a terrible film, but it's a surprisingly lifeless one that ranks near or below Haywire in the director's filmography. When I consider that my fondness for talky movies tends to be much stronger than most people, it's frankly hard to imagine Netflix viewers sticking with this movie all the way to the end, even at such a short run time. Thankfully, there's a wealth of alternatives to stream, and Sodergbergh fans (myself included) can only hope that his next effort (which features Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Will Forte) is nothing but net.
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.