High Flying Bird
Cast: Andre Holland, Bill Duke
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Oscean’s series, Magic Mike) is back with his typical setting—quick transitions, quirky dialogues, fast-paced environment and powerful resolution. But this time, he is tackling another challenge—it’s all shot on an iPhone. Not that he has done it for the first time—his previous film Unsane was also shot on a smartphone, but it’s slightly different as High Flying Bird looks very different from Unsane, which screams of limited production values.
Soderbergh exploits the benefits of a light weight shooting equipment. You see him getting extremely close to the characters or tracking motion from a wide angle as if it’s a part of the street crowd. And he definitely loves streets. Long shots of Andre Holland walking past building or cars cruising along like fluids keep you in the game. After all, it’s about ‘a game on top of the game.’
On the outset, it is about Holland’s struggle to keep his job as a sports agent, but Soderbergh has also weaved in a side narrative about the capitalist control over the basketball league. In fact, this has a strong resonance as Holland appears desperate yet maneuvering during a lockout. Melvin Gregg plays Erick Scott, a rookie season player who doesn’t know much about the financial part of the game and lockout means he won’t get paid. If it stretches then his entire career might be at stake.
We are introduced to other players of the game—managers, club stake holders and officials who make NBA happen. You witness the dark side of the game while brushing past them.
However, High Flying Bird is as much about storytelling techniques as it is about a person’s fight to restore faith in the game. Reportedly made at a budget of 2 million dollars, High Flying Bird doesn’t look compromised, to begin with. Reminding us of Sex, Lies and Videotape at various places, it navigates us inside the psyche of beginners in NBA. Their diverse, mostly resource less, backgrounds are laid bare as part of the probe. There is a backstory of a dead player as well as a tool to identify the mistakes committed by a new player.
Then there are footage of real players talking about the game and how it is governed. It immediately adds authenticity to the film and a new perspective as well, even if you don’t follow basketball.
This is not just a documentary though. The owners and the players’ representative bring two sides of the same coin while Holland ties to break free the game from their clutches. In short, he is calling the shots and not the people sitting on top of the game.
High Flying Bird has an engaging premise and Andre Holland is its spine. Steven Soderbergh has once again displayed his acute understanding of technique as a vehicle to drive story. This Netflix film is all about subtleties.
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