Stephen Soderbergh has had a rise and fall, a retirement phase and then a rise. But things just got a lot more complicated.
Synopsis: In the midst of a pro basketball lockout, sports agent Ray Burke finds himself caught in the face-off between the league and the players. His career is on the line, but Ray is playing for higher stakes. With only 72 hours to pull off a daring plan, he outmaneuvers all the power-players as he uncovers a loophole that could change the game forever. The outcome raises questions of who owns the game – and who ought to. (Netflix)
Starring: André Holland, Zazie Beetz, and Melvin Gregg
Writer: Tarell Alvin McCraney
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Time: 90mins
Stephen Soderbergh has had a very interesting career trajectory. He is considered one of the most influential filmmakers in the industry – in his heyday being responsible for such classics as Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Oceans Eleven. However, after his work on 2013’s Side Effects, he said he was retired and done in the world of film. Then, a year later, he directed episodes of The Knick. Two years after that, he followed with the hilarious heist ensemble Logan Lucky, and followed that up with one of the best films of 2018, Unsane. Soderbergh decided to use the same gimmick here that he used for the production of Unsane – again shooting the movie with an iPhone 7. Does the effect work like a charm as it did in Unsane? Not exactly.
There is a lot of merit behind High Flying Bird, and for that Soderbergh should be applauded for said merit. The way the production here went down was quite admirable – Soderbergh kind of left the whole studio system out of the equation completely, making High Flying Bird in what he has called a “DIY” fashion, just going out and making this thing with the actors without requiring the approval or guidance of anyone. This shows the passion he has for this film and the craft of film alone, and he deserves respect for his handling of that.
In addition, to somewhat of a surprise, the iPhone cinematography is quite seamless. It definitely seems as if Soderbergh has gained a true grasp on how to handle the iPhone, and the tools & lighting he needs to use to perfect it. For a large portion of the film, it was quite difficult to discern that it was shot on an amateur camera. If this was the intention, he has definitely succeeded. This also features a great ensemble cast where no one in particular stuck out – which again, makes for a fantastic ensemble.
The one problematic area here was the script. Instead of becoming immersed in the story, it was almost like the writers were standing in front of the screen obstructing your view. It plays out in such a way that it alienates viewers with little knowledge of basketball so you really have to almost be an expert in the field to truly connect with the story as zero background information or exposition is provided. This expectation from the audience to know everything going in was definitely frustrating, and will prevented many from even understanding what was going on.
Although it may seem like there is more praise here than anything, but the issue of accessibility is fairly significant and makes for what is a frankly boring film. Although High Flying Bird has some cool ideas and camerawork, this is just an uninteresting story that relies on camera gimmicks as a driving force than anything else.
*High Flying Bird will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 8th*