Last year saw director Steven Soderbergh shift his attention to smaller budget projects and as a result he brought us the excellent thriller ‘Unsane’. Continuing with this shift of financial focus his latest film is new Netflix sports drama ‘High Flying Bird’. The film looks at the corporate court side drama in the world of basketball, starring André Holland, whose idea it was for this story, in the leading role.
The film begins with very little context or introduction starting with a lunch meeting between an agent and one of his clients. The discussion is heated and quite fast-paced making it difficult for the audience to find their bearings, especially for those unfamiliar with basketball and its terminology. The film continues with this lack of exposition, clearly not interested in educating those members of its audience who are new to this sport. As a result of this distinct lack of exposition the screenplay feels somewhat exclusive and will quickly become dull and boring for those who don’t like or at least aren’t knowledgeable about this sport. Sure, maybe it only wants to appeal to those who enjoy the sport, but this is such a limiting approach to story-telling. There are countless examples of films which have anticipated certain percentages of audiences that won’t fully grasp the subject of their film but who have at least made efforts to include and educate as many of these viewers as possible whilst also entertaining them, ‘High Flying Bird’ does no such thing.
Of course the film does have its more engaging moments. These usually come as a product of the human drama, often having little to do with basketball at all. These scenes are comparatively much more easy to follow than those filled with the corporate sports jargon and to no surprise are effortlessly more entertaining. However, it should be noted that there is next to no actual basketball played in the film. This isn’t a criticism but audiences should be aware that this isn’t a sports drama concerned with following a team or a player as they rise to glory but instead the behind the scene workings of this huge sports enterprise. The performances of those cast are all good but they aren’t captivating enough to overcome the unengaging screenplay which holds the film back from becoming anything of interest.
Far from the slam dunk it aspires to be ‘High Flying Bird’ is a disappointing attempt at bringing this sporting sector to the silver screen. Instead of offering an enlightening insight into the corporate side of the basket-balling world it tells a muddled story which carries no impact due to the films failure to explain what’s actually happening. The cast portray what could have been a fascinating collection of characters but the narrative they inhibit is largely inaccessible inspiring audience indifference at an alarming rate, leaving viewers less informed and certainly less entertained than should be the case.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 3/10
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