One of Netflix’s newest original films, big-time producer and director Steven Soderbergh’s “High Flying Bird,” takes place in the midst of an NBA lockout season and follows the path of sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) and his rookie basketball clients.
The film addresses topics of power and race in an incredibly innovative way, and its story is written well by Oscar-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — though it might be difficult to follow for those who aren’t knowledgeable about the world of sports.
“High Flying Bird” speaks of the change of societal norms in two different ways: through its production process and its storytelling. Soderbergh did something — for the second time in his career — that is nearly unheard of when creating modern movies. He chose to film the entire movie using an iPhone.
Not only is it a major feat to create a successful movie with a phone camera, but this shows that it is possible for anyone who owns a smartphone to create a movie. Though production quality diminishes with this choice, Soderbergh has opened up doors to filmmaking and created opportunities for those who dream of it.
The way this film was produced goes hand in hand with the story, and it could even be seen as a way to emphasize its message. Last year, LeBron James made a statement on his HBO show “The Shop” that stirred the sports realm.
“In the NFL, they got a bunch of old white men owning teams, and they got that slave mentality,” the basketball star said.
The world of “High Flying Bird” seems to match the description of James’s quote as all of the team owners and other higher-ups in the film are white men, and Ray Burke and his colleagues have to fight through these men of power in order get the NBA season started. In the same way that it is rare to see a movie made with an iPhone, we seldom see diversity in powerful positions, especially in sports.
What’s also fascinating about this picture is that Soderbergh is able to get dynamic performances out of his large cast, yet he does it with no A-listers in the lineup. Holland gives the best performance as Ray Burke, followed closely by Zazie Beetz as Sam and Sonja Sohn as Myra. On the other hand, Melvin Gregg is relatively new to acting and gives a strong effort, but he disappoints the most with his performance as rookie Erick Scott.
Gregg seems like he is calculating his thoughts too much as an actor and never really gives enough emotion to his lines; however, this is a breakout role for him that will hopefully open the doors to new films that will help him perfect his craft. The cast members impress, and Soderbergh scatters interviews with NBA athletes Reggie Jackson, Karl-Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell, who provide nuggets of advice for surviving the NBA.
There is no doubt the story contains an interesting plot to follow along with interesting performances. McCraney gives us quick and snappy dialogue, while he also gives us an interesting take on what the world of professional sports might look like behind the scenes. The story moves quickly, so it can become disorienting very quickly. If they can get past the hurdles, then this film can provide an enjoyable experience.
Overall, “High Flying Bird” is an innovative, unique film that takes us through the dark mysteries of the executive world of sports while showing us how the decisions made affect those outside of the inner circle during an NBA lockout season.