High Flying Bird

Netflix's High Flying Bird is an inside-basketball drama inventively shot by Steven Soderbergh on the iPhone, and it's a sports movie unlike any that have come before

Film Review by Ross McIndoe | 14 Feb 2019
  • High Flying Birds
Film title: High Flying Bird
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Andre Holland, Zazie Beets, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn, Zachary Quinto, Glenn Fleshler, Jeryl Prescott, Justin Hurtt-Dunkley, Caleb McLaughlin, Bobbi Bordley, Kyle MacLachlan, Bill Duke
Release date: 8 Feb

Elite athletes today are living, breathing brand names. In the Instagram age, as the line between private and public continues to blur, their image and identity are as valuable as their athletic ability. When so much money is involved, that blurry boundary becomes a battle line.

In Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird, negotiations between team owners and players have broken down, resulting in a 'lockout' which burns a hole deeper in the players’ pockets with each passing day. Fast-talking agent Ray (André Holland) is the man in the middle, working behind the scenes to end the standoff

Soderbergh’s latest is not about champions or underdogs. It eschews all of sport’s grand narratives to focus on the day-to-day business of making a living playing ball, told up close and unglamorous by an iPhone camera that gives the movie an intensity and a street-level look that feels in tandem with the protagonists’ simmering rage against the NBA’s gluttonous corporate machine.

The reduced visual vocabulary does have its drawbacks though, sometimes leaving the film feeling a little stilted and rhythmless. Similarly, while the screenplay’s quickfire dialogue is exhilarating, its attempts to thread through a B-story about Ray’s cousin are oddly inelegant.

High Flying Bird also makes no concessions to those who don’t know the ins and outs of pro basketball. It takes off at a mile a minute and expects you to keep up, making it a difficult film to enjoy if you can’t. But if you can parse the jargon and stay the pace, you’ll find a sports movie unlike any that have come before, distinct from its lo-fi look right down to its sombre, seize-the-means heart.

High Flying Bird is streaming now on Netflix