Courtesy of Netflix
Steven Soderbergh has been testing unorthodox methods of releasing his films to the general public. He tested a self-finance marketing model for the beloved, but hardly seen, “Logan Lucky” and then shot his last film: the good-not-great “Unsane” entirely on an IPhone. In an era where filmmaking seems to be at a stand-still, at least Soderbergh is attempting to try something new.
In his latest, “High Flying Bird” - the “Magic Mike” and “Erin Brockovich” director again strives to introduce a main character looking for a redeeming arch. A hustler trying to pave their way in society. In “Bird” that character is André Holland’s Ray, a wheeling and dealing sports agent trying to cling onto his job and clients in the midst of an NBA lockout. He’s recently lost his salary, because, well, no money is coming in and his boss (Zachary Quinto) can see the formidable writing on the wall: their agency will sink if the issue isn’t resolved and they can’t retain the commission of the pending NBA contract of one college stud (played by “American Vandal” standout Melvin Gregg).
I doubt Soderbergh was interested in putting a basketball film on his resume, but unlike most sport-themed films, this one forgoes all the action on the court in lieu of contract negotiations, marketing gimmicks, and network airtime. It’s by all means a talky film, but Soderbergh never condenses his audience, instead, he hopes you’ll tag along and the script penned by “Moonlight” scribe Tarell Alvin McCraney is snappy and quick, and mirrors that of a David Mamet play.
Holland turns in a terrific performance who sits in most of the frames (probably because Soderbergh shot “Bird” an Iphone in two weeks) with an edge while being quick to come up with schemes and motives to get both sides (the NBA and the players) to come up with an agreement. You may question his methods, but the way the plot unfolds in this quick 90 minute scavenge is interesting to view.
Not to say all of Soderberg’s ideals stick the landing, as the film introduces several characters and side-plots (specifically Ray’s history with the passing of a family member or the one between his former assistant (Zazie Beetz of “Deadpool 2” fame) and Gregg’s cocky basketball prodigy) that never come to fruition. Then again, running 90 minutes - sometimes that’s the burden we pay.
“High Flying Bird” still presents timely topics that resonate beyond the normal tier of sports films, as this one deals with real issues as opposed to uplifting and inspirational topics. That might work for those looking for something a tad more witty in its nature, others might not see it as a slam dunk.