HIGH FLYING BIRD – A Review by Cynthia Flores
High Flying Bird is the new film from notoriously eclectic director Steven Soderbergh. He came to fame with his groundbreaking 1989 film Sex, Lies, and Video Tape. But he has also given us mainstream hits like the 2000 Erin Brockovich film. So you never know what you’re going to get when he does a new project. In this film, he seems to be revisiting of his lower budget stuff with a big dash of Mamet style rapid-fire dialogue throughout.
High Flying Bird is an earnestly subversive film. The story takes place over a seventy-two-hour period during a six-month-long player lockout by the owners of the NBA teams represented mostly by a man named Darius (Kyle MacLachlan). No one can portray white power and privilege like Kyle MacLachlan, and in this film he practically has it dripping off him at every turn. He lords his indifference to the plight of the player’s requests being presented to him by Myra (Sonja Sohn), the head of the players association and longtime friend to Ray (Andre Holland). Ray is a super-agent that works for a big firm and handles the new number one draft pick Erik (Melvin Greg). Ray has been doing this for years. He started off as a kid playing basketball for the love of the game with his soon to be “famous NBA player” cousin. After his cousin’s untimely death, Ray then started playing the game that the owners of the NBA put on top of the actual game that all the players devoted their lives too. He learned the business of basketball; always looking out for his clients that did not think about life after their careers.
Ray has a lot in common with his new client. He grew up playing the same street ball that Erik did under the inner city dominate and strict coach Spencer (Bill Duke). The coach had a rule on his court that explains a phrase you will often hear in this movie. “If you say anything about slavery in regards to the system of basketball or its players then you have to say the phrase – I love the lord and all his black people.” Say it or be banished forever.
Because all the players are hurting from the lockout, especially his young rookie Erik, Ray sets into motion all sorts of smart power moves that make the owners sit up and take notice. For the love of the game, he wants the people that have the ball in their hands to get back control from the people in the skyboxes, even if it’s just for a moment. Unfortunately for Ray, he realizes that his client Erik is not a game changer he’s just happy to be playing the game, which is precisely the kind of player that the owners like to have.
This film is very stylized, and the production shots are bare but artsy. This includes the interviews interspersed throughout the film with players about what the game means to them. I’ll bet Soderbergh made this film on a shoestring budget. That man can get more on the screen for a buck than anyone making movies right now.
This film is ultimately a study of power and the love of basketball. It has a lot of important things to say inspired by an influential book called The Revolt of the Black Athlete by Harry Edwards. The end of the movie is really a great “Gotcha.” Unfortunately, you have to sit through a really dull film to get there. That’s too bad because High Flying Bird has a great cast and a lot of important points to make; unfortunately, it isn’t done in a very entertaining way. I can only give this film a C+ rating.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Selig Rating C+
Running Time 1hr 30min
Release February 8th Netflix Exclusive
Starring: Andre Holland, Melvin Gregg, Zazie Beetz, Kyle MacLachlan, Sonja Sohn, Bill Duke, Zachary Quinto
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.