22nd Feb2019

‘High Flying Bird’ Review (Netflix)

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: André Holland, Melvin Gregg, Eddie Tavares, Farah Bala, Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, Joy Taylor, Zazie Beetz, Bill Duke, Zachary Quinto, Caleb McLaughlin, Bobbi A Bordley, Sonja Sohn, Kyle MacLachlan, Jeryl Prescott, Justin Hurtt-Dunkley | Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney | Directed by Steven Soderbergh

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Steven Soderbergh continues his ongoing evolution in digital filmmaking with High Flying Bird, released exclusively by streaming giants Netflix. The film is the second consecutive feature shot on an iPhone smartphone from Soderbergh after the phenomenal psychological thriller Unsane filmed on an iPhone 7 Plus and released only a year previously in 2018. Soderbergh utilises an iPhone 8 that is equipped with a wide-angle lens provided by Moondog Labs for his latest feature. A film that entails all the very best of Soderbergh’s masterful traits with terrific editing, delightful cinematography and a superb script. Yet also highlights the self-indulgence that directors of Soderbergh’s quality often succumb to in failing to inject a distinctive layer of interest or spectacle into a subject that is saturated to a point of oblivion.

High Flying Bird is visually outstanding. Going as far as to suggest it is strikingly stunning. The claustrophobic intensity of the picture is deeply unnervingly engaging for the viewer to behold, deceitfully so in fact. It evokes a sense of warmth and protection utilising a wide lens that surrounds and hugs the screen ultimately smothering the audience in a subtle seductiveness. Similar to that of Soderbergh’s previous exploit Unsane, High Flying Bird utilises specific framing and composition to evoke an eerie manner of dread and uncertainty through intoxicatingly subtle images. Albeit in a significantly differing context of conveying atmosphere from psychological horror to intense suave bravado of legality and entrepreneurship.

The performance from leading actor André Holland as Ray Burke offers little in charisma or invading personality to craft an engaging character. An extremely stoic actor that gives an extremely stoic performance. Not necessarily the biggest criticism to dish out and a trait that contextually adds to the enigmatic mysticism of Burke’s in-house gambling but doesn’t allow the character to open up and emotionally engage with the audience. Therefore, you never root for the character, you never gage with his success or plights in desperate tense situations of which flutter and stutter. The supporting cast while strong in screen presence, specifically Zazie Beetz as Sam who is able to stretch her range onwards and upwards but much like bit-part players Kyle MacLachlan and Zachary Quinto as David Seton and David Starr, respectively, are given a severely limited amount of screen time to develop and prosper in a film that isn’t particularly outlandish in terms of character.

The edit is an attribute of production that showcases and reinforces the depth and sheer versatility of Soderbergh’s talent with extraordinary range outlining his notoriously infamous level of superb editing skills that curates a level of outstanding out the most saturated and mundane. Nothing in High Flying Bird‘s short and sweet slim running time of just ninety minutes feels out of place or lingering on unnecessary sequences to fill out an inflammatory narrative. Everything is precise and explicitly detailed. However, the narrative itself, surprisingly for a Soderbergh production, leaves much to be desired in terms of engagement and absorbing subject material. While the subject matter of in house warring and corporate battles of power sway and authority is undeniably cinematic. It only teethes a theatrical prowess of alluring attractiveness to a blunt story.

It’s somewhat difficult to specifically pinpoint where the un-engaging narrative derives from. It perhaps comes hand in hand with Soderbergh and the screenplay from Tarell Alvin McCraney not being able to necessarily crack an inciteful tale for what is for many a doomed concept to begin with regarding a sports-themed picture. On the surface, it isn’t all that particularly distinctive from Soderbergh’s mantelpiece of successful achievements with the caper genre be it a crime or farcical film in nature. Yet High Flying Bird hasn’t got the edge or energy to stand out from the crowd, never distinctive or enchanting with how it wrestles a battleground of deception and questioning the merits of loyalty in what is essentially a lacklustre uneventful and sweeping story.

High Flying Bird is available on Netflix now.

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