Arts, Features

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘High Flying Bird’ is a largely forgettable sports drama

It is hard to imagine a film like “High Flying Bird” receiving too much attention, even if it were to get a theatrical release. In the era of Netflix and its oversaturated market, the film feels doomed to fail.

Netflix released “High Flying Bird,” an original film, Friday. André Hollandstars (right) plays a sports agent named Ray Burke. COURTESY OF PETER ANDREWS/ NETFLIX MEDIA

Despite the film’s well-known director, Steven Soderbergh — the director behind hits such as “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Magic Mike” — the Netflix original has already come and gone with very little press and certainly does not hold up to his previous efforts.

The plot of “High Flying Bird” centers around the behind-the-scenes politics that fuel the NBA. More specifically, a fast-talking sports agent tries to pitch a groundbreaking business concept

during a lockout that is crippling both businessmen and players.

By far the most interesting aspect of this film is the way it is shot. Rather than relying on traditional cameras to tell the story, Soderbergh chose to shoot it entirely on an iPhone 8.

The director had already employed this strategy with his previous film “Unsane,” but in “High Flying Bird” it feels far more fluid and polished. There are many scenes where it is easy to forget that smartphones were in play, as the images look very sharp and crisp — almost as though they were shot on actual cameras.

On one hand, this raises the question of why it was necessary to use iPhones in the first place. But it is also an impressive feat in terms of technological filmmaking, proving that these newer forms of recording devices are a valid option for directors.

Unfortunately, “High Flying Bird” does not have too much more to offer beyond its cinematography. No aspects of the film are bad, but none are great enough to propel it into “must-watch” territory.

All of the acting is solid, with André Holland delivering a standout performance as the snarky yet good-hearted sports agent at the center of the story. And fans of the show Twin Peaks will be happy to see Kyle MacLachlan appear in a small yet memorable role.

Other performers such as Sonja Sohn and Bill Duke give it their all, but they are unfortunately not given too much to work with.

The dialogue is well-written, making some conversations that could have been dull very entertaining to listen to. Nothing about it is too memorable, but the sarcastic wit of the characters should keep audiences at least somewhat engaged.

Where “High Flying Bird” falters most is in the plot. Uneventful would be the best word to describe this movie. It moves along at a snail’s pace, and feels like it would be completely inaccessible to viewers who are not fans of basketball.

There is nothing wrong with slow films that take their time to develop characters and build tension. But “High Flying Bird” feels more like all build-up with no payoff. By the time the film ends, it is not difficult to question what the point of it all was.

A distracting choice was to include small breaks from the story where real-life basketball players talk about their experiences in an interview format. Although it was surely done as a means of driving home the film’s themes, “distracting” is once again the only word that can be used for it.

These scenes do more harm than good for a film that already feels meandering and forgettable. It is likely that even the most hardcore basketball fans will find themselves disinterested, as Soderbergh seems determined to have written this story in the most dull way possible.

If nothing else, it is fascinating to see a film from the well-regarded Steven Soderbergh receive next to no attention.

This is yet another side-effect of the entertainment industry’s shift toward streaming. “High Flying Bird” might have received moderate praise in theaters, but with the glut of Netflix originals being thrown at audiences on a daily basis, there is no possible way it could have stood out.

Fans of Holland and Soderbergh should probably check this one out, as “High Flying Bird” is not a terrible film by any means. It is just not one that will stand the test of time in any way.

Good performances and dialogue, as well as a unique form of cinematography, are sometimes not enough to elevate a bland plot. The gripping twists and excitement usually present in Soderbergh films are absent here. Do not be surprised if you find yourself struggling to remember “High Flying Bird” even days after watching it.

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