Game On: Our Review of ‘High Flying Bird’ on Netflix

Posted in Movies, Netflix, What's Streaming? by - February 07, 2019
Game On: Our Review of ‘High Flying Bird’ on Netflix

Most end up getting played by the game…very few actually get to reverse that trend.

High Flying Bird drops us in the middle of the high stakes world of professional sports and makes us feel like we are in the middle of thriller thanks to some superb direction and a flat out star making performance.

In the midst of a pro basketball lockout, sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) 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.

It’s a damn shame that High Flying Bird isn’t getting any kind of theatrical run up here in Canada, because it a tightly wound and incredibly relevant social drama that is being played out in corporate boardrooms, in the media, on the hardwood and everywhere else in between.

Yet another masterstroke from the likes of Steven Soderbergh that proves talent isn’t necessarily in what kind of camera you use, but rather how you use it.

Let’s just take a second to appreciate that this man; once again shot an amazing looking film on a g***amn iPhone?!?  It weaves in and out of office and through corridors with ease allowing for a natural sense of tension to build and his use of natural shadow and light really create a unique environment for these characters to exist in.  Even with these relatively simple devices there’s a real sense of emotional stakes that Soderbergh successful brings out of the narrative which is part of why this was such an engaging film experience.

The script from Tarell Alvin McCraney (who also wrote Moonlight) is genuinely dialed in to so many of these issues that currently surround sport culture right now.  McCraney makes it all feel fresh and original while not riffing directly on anything happening in pro sports right now (while still having actual NBA players talk about their experiences as a rookie in the league) and opens up a very specific world to a general audience who should know about the real social ramifications going on in the never ending battles between owners (who are predominately white) and the players (who are predominately black).  It’s incredibly palpable and as eluded to so often in the film; “It’s about the game, inside of the game”.  He locks us in from the opening minutes thanks to a leading man performance that was more then up to the task.

People will remember Andre Holland from shows like The Knick and his turn in Moonlight but here is where he takes it to the next level.  As Ray Burke, a weathered sports agent with a past and an emotional investment in the game of basketball we see him fighting for something that he loves, but it’s more than that.  He knows the difficulties in reinventing the wheel from the outside but knows the absolute need to be smart enough, and to educate those around him about making change from the inside.  Holland brings a magnetic and palpable energy to the role and as we watch him influence all those around him in order to affect the changes he wants, it plays out like a game of chess.  We know the movies that can be made, but once we finally see the checkmate we are in awe of the deftness in which it was all executed.  Holland does it all so well that you’ll be screaming for the man to get more juicey material like this that he can tear into.

Zazie Beetz who you’ll recognize from Deadpool 2 as his ‘former’ assistant is quite formidable while the likes of Kyle McLachlan, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn, Zachary Quinto and Bill Duke round out the ensemble in key roles.

While I can’t lie that I would have liked to see High Flying Bird play out on the big screen, it is pure fire cinema no matter what size of a screen you watch it on.  It launches on Netflix tomorrow and is more the price of the monthly subscription and it’s easily the best film of our still pretty fresh new year of 2019.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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