Saturday, February 9

High Flying Bird Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: André Holland, Melvin Gregg, Zazie Beetz & Bill Duke
Netflix Original – February 8, 2019

Sports agent, Ray Burke (Holland) is representing the number one overall draft pick in the NBA, Erick Scott (Gregg). Unfortunately, no one is getting paid because the league is in a lockout due to a dispute between the team owners and the player’s union. Tensions are high, and resources are low. This leads Burke to concoct an innovative scheme, enacting a power shift in the league.

I’ll start off by saying that I’ve never considered myself a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh’s work. In the past decades, he’s had a lot of output. And largely, his films are almost always above average. But as much of them as I’ve seen, I couldn’t tell you what his masterpiece is. He always seems to be leaning towards the cutting edge and experimenting with equipment and techniques. But more often than not, I’ve felt that this tends to detract away from any heart in his stories. It seems that his passion lies more in filmmaking as an exercise and a process than as an expression. I don’t want to sound like I don’t have respect for his work. Again, he has had surprisingly few duds. I just have rarely if ever, emotionally connected with his work.

On the other hand, I have been a huge fan of NBA basketball since the late 80’s. So, I was very intrigued to see how this subject was tackled. I wasn’t expecting what this turned out to be. I was surprised to see the level of industrial understanding Soderbergh and writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney had. The inner workings exposé impression in the film was far more insightful than anything you’re likely to see from an ESPN daytime talk show. It was also unique to see real interviews with three NBA stars intercut with this fictional tale. It was as if they were there explicitly to give validation and weight to the story.

Soderbergh’s dedication to experimentalism can primarily be seen here in his camera work. He is also credited as the film’s cinematographer. It’s got a unique look to it. Like his 2018 UNSANE, it was also shot on an iPhone. You can sense the fun he’s having with it and I appreciate the almost amateurish and at times even voyeuristic look, especially in the first act. A lot of the framing is static. Characters come in and out of view. I think this is meant to mimic some of the thematic elements that the film is expressing. I’ll get into those later.

The cast has some exciting elements. MOONLIGHT’s Holland does well as the calculating agent and I hope I’ll never get tired of watching “Atlanta” star, Zazie Beetz. She’s always interesting to watch. The ever dependable, Kyle MacLaughlin shows up also in a thankless but crucial role. But, the one that I was most interested in was Bill Duke. I was surprised and thrilled to see the COMMANDO and PREDATOR star last year in a small role in MANDY. He’s probably the best part of this film. He plays Spence, a hard-nosed coach of a charity youth league. There’s a complexity to his character that I’m sure he understood and embodied better than I can describe. So, I won’t try.

What I find most special about this film is its screenplay. Ultimately, this is the clever story of exclusivity and exploitation. And how modern technologies and media platforms are challenging the capitalistic old-guard. We live in a time in which the perceived exclusivity and secrecy of almost every industry is constantly having to compete with a relentless flow of free information. Real estate agents are losing their commissions to online self-listings and mechanics and handymen are challenged by DIY Youtube channels. The entertainment industry has had to adjust as well. More and more recording artists are finding that they have to monetize concerts and t-shirts because their music is only an on-demand click away. Filmmaking is the same way. Not only do theaters have to compete with streaming sites, but the progression of technological advancements in camera and editing equipment has made filmmaking more accessible to the hoi polloi.

There’s no reason to think that this same mentality will not also seep into the powerful and lucrative sports entertainment industry in due time. While watching this, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the NFL and team owner’s attempt last year to impose new rules regarding player’s conduct during the National Anthem. Their bluff was called, and no actual rule ended up changing. But when the dust began to settle, the power began to shift. The owners and the leagues have their place as the stewards of the infrastructure that puts these talents on display for us, the fans. But we don’t show up or tune in to watch them. The more that this truth is realized, the more fairly the power and wealth will be distributed amongst the industry.

Emery’s Rating
3.75 out of 5 Stars

No comments:

Post a Comment