I remember whe Steven Soderbergh said he was retiring back in 2013. Side Effects, which was great, had just been released, and Soderbergh surprised everyone when he said he wasn’t going to make movies anymore. Did people believe it? Not really, but it was still a big deal when he said it. It only took a year for that to be proven a lie, since he started a whole new TV show, The Knick, in 2014. He claimed he only meant movies, but you could see that was just an excuse for him to make stuff. The show only went on to having two seasons, and ended in 2015. Then, there was a two year break, and it started to look like he was truly retired.
But then he made an actual movie, Logan Lucky, and his retirement was over, just like that. A few months later, he took his content up a notch and created a choose-your-own-adventure TV show, Mosaic, on HBO. And that was the start of Soderbergh wanting to make more interesting and innovative movies and TV shows. 6 months later, he made news by making a new, full-length and fully-advertised movie, Unsane, recorded only on an iPhone 7 Plus. And the shocking thing was, it actually looked great! So it shouldn’t have been a surprise he would make another film shot on the iPhone 7 Plus, but what would be surprising is that it would be a Netflix original. Now the film is out, and it was honestly better than I expected!
The best thing about this film is the writing. Tarell Alvin McCraney does a great job with the dialogue between all of the characters in this film, mainly in how authentic it feels. The film takes place in New York, and you really feel like the characters are from there. Also, the story and structure of the film is noticiably great. The story taking place during an NBA lockout is very unique, and something I’ve never seen before. Another great thing about this film is the acting. Andre Holland, Zazie Beats and Melvin Gregg all give amazing performances, and the chemistry between all of them is unreal. Every time they were interacting on screen, I was glued to it.
In terms of its flaws, there was quite a lot of them. For one, the film being recorded by an iPhone 7 Plus just doesn’t work as well here as it did for Unsane. In that film, you want it to feel claustrophobic or even handheld, simply because of its story that it’s telling (storytelling). However, none of that is needed for this film. So although I appreciate Soderbergh trying to be inspiring to young filmmakers, as a viewer the film just didn’t look good. Another thing that didn’t work for me were the side characters. The main trio is dynamite, and I was always excited to see them. However, whenever other characters showed up, the film’s energy just dropped, and it became really boring. I wish the smaller characters were more entertaining than they actually were.
High Flying Bird is as entertaining as Soderbergh‘s last effort, but not necessarily as good. He definitely takes everything he learned while making Unsane and tries to apply it here, but in the end it just doesn’t work for this type of story. What does work, however, is the sharp script, amazing performances from the three main leads, and the very unique story that was being told. It’s incredible where Soderbergh went after his supposed retirement – from making one of the best TV shows of the past couple of years, to making one of the most underrated movies of the past couple of years, to being a pioneer of DIY-cinema. I may not always love his films, but what he is doing for the film industry is undeniably revolutionary.
HIGH FLYING BIRD
TV-MA / 90 mins / Sport / February 8th, 2019
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Starring Andre Holland, Zazie Beats and Melvin Gregg