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Steven Soderbergh Makes “High Flying Bird” Soar

Here’s something rather interesting. It’s stunning that the release of this film isn’t a bigger deal. Steven Soderbergh has made a new movie, written by the co-writer of Moonlight. If that wasn’t enough, throw in that he’s tackling the sports genre, while also beginning a partnership with Netflix. Essentially, there’s a new Soderbergh flick available at this moment to the masses. That would be noteworthy on its own, but as an added bonus, the film is absolutely fantastic. You literally have no excuse not to be watching this right now. Stop what you’re doing (well, finish this review first) and pour its greatness right into your eyeballs.

The movie is a sports drama, though not in the traditional way. Take one part Ballers, one part The Girlfriend Experience, one part Jerry Maguire, mix it all into something totally unique, and you have a starting point. Set during an NBA lockout between the owners and the players, we follow a high powered agent in Ray Burke (André Holland). As we meet him, he’s explaining to his client, recent top draft pick Eric Scott (Melvin Gregg), what the situation is. Like many young players, he’s nervous about money. Ray has a plan, though, which isn’t immediately clear to anyone. However, as people like his assistant Sam (Zazie Beetz) catch wind of it, they begin to wonder if Ray is about to upend the entire system of professional basketball. To say any more would be to spoil things, but it’s incredibly compelling to watch how it all comes together. Soderbergh directs a script by Tarell Alvin McCraney, while the top notch supporting cast includes Bill Duke, Kyle MacLachlan, Zachary Quinto, Sonja Sohn, and more. David Wilder Savage composed the score, while Soderbergh himself edits and handles the cinematography, under assumed names, of course.

I absolutely adored High Flying Bird. Soderbergh combines McCraney’s lyrical script with a directorial immediacy that really makes things soar here. It’s also easily the best looking film shot on an iPhone to date. Throw in Holland’s commanding performance and there’s charm after charm on display. At a brisk 90 minutes, you might even be able to make the case that this is a bit too short. I for one would have watched another hour of this movie, which is no small compliment. There’s such a mastery on display that it’s positively infectious. You can get cinematically drunk on this sort of proficiency.

When you think about it, Soderbergh taking this flick to Netflix makes all the sense in the world. The plot does center on being a disruptor of a multi billion dollar industry, after all. That must have spoken deeply to Ted Sarandos and the streaming giant. At times, you can even substitute the film industry for basketball when the story gets into the real nitty gritty. When our protagonist talks about the game on top of the game, it has multiple meanings. McCraney’s screenplay takes no shortcuts, so be prepared to pay attention. Luckily, you’re in the hands of a master like Soderbergh, who ushers you in and out with clinical precision.

If you have Netflix, you can literally watch High Flying Bird right now. It’s 100% a must see, in my humble opinion. Soderbergh, if you can believe it, was only a few years ago supposedly retired. Now, he’s put out one amazing film here in 2019, with another one in The Laundromat headed to the streaming service before the end of the year, for presumed Academy Award consideration. Regardless of how Soderbergh ends up faring with Oscar, we just have a master back at the top of his craft to enjoy. Make it your business to watch this as soon as possible. You can thank me later…

Be sure to check out High Flying Bird, streaming now on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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