High Flying Bird Aims High, Feels Like a Chore

Feels like Steven Soderbergh hasn’t been relevant in over a decade, content to wallow in self-exiled obscurity, retire, then un-retire, and now spinning his wheels on subject matter not worth his time. His latest, Netflix original High Flying Bird, is an almost-quick-witted drama about backroom politics in the NBA. Set during a lockout, the story follows a high-level agent who’s trying to steer a rookie’s career in the right direction amid stubborn conflict between NBA brass and the player’s association. Wanting to highlight the slave trade of modern basketball, Soderbergh’s picture has heady ideas at heart. It’s also a film about smart people jabbing and jockeying for position, walking and talking in big rooms and hallways of power. In other words, it’s an Aaron Sorkin script, only without Sorkin’s knack for dialogue and biting wit. Too many zingers don’t zing and many monologues end in futility, the result of didactic pandering getting the audience nowhere fun or interesting. IPhone photography is sublime when used for Steadicam work and sunny exteriors, and its limits are obvious when used for over-the-shoulder or dark interiors. Moonlight‘s Andre Holland does his best to enliven the material, and Zachary Quinto and Kyle MacLachlan make for great white villains, but they’re no match for a director who, lately anyway, lives to bore and make everything a chore in equal measure. The best way to describe High Flying Bird is that, despite its heady ideas and technical merits, it’s something of a chore to sit through.

Grade: C

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