High Flying Bird (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Sean Baker may have proven that you can make a feature film with an iPhone with Tangerine (2015), but Steven Soderbergh appears to have taken the idea and ran with it. Last year’s Unsane, and now his new film High Flying Bird (2019) – which currently on Netflix – both were shot on an iPhone to great effect. This is easily one of the better Netflix Originals in recent memory, and top-tier Soderbergh.

High Flying Bird is one of the better Netflix originals…and it’s not getting pushed by the company

Ray Burke (André Holland) is a sports agent, primarily for NBA players, who is struggling to keep his company and his clients calm during a lock-out. Burke pitches his newest rookie, Eric Scott (Melvin Gregg), a controversial business opportunity that could put Eric at risk with his contract. However, Ray knows the system, and is just looking out for his client’s best interest.

Holland truly gets to shine in High Flying Bird. He’s talented in every role I’ve seen him in, but getting to take the reigns really fit him well. He’s a dynamic presence, and as the cool, calm, and collected Ray Burke, he’s right at home. No matter how tense scenes may get, Ray is always in control, and that is completely expressed in Holland’s performance. The other major highlight in the film is Zazie Beetz, who continues to impress. She plays Ray’s former assistant, Sam, who clearly gets the same impression that I did about Ray: this guy is the only one who knows what’s going on. She sticks by him, and is wise enough to work the system alongside him…which is compelling, as Sam has her own agenda and is working her own scheme while Ray is running his.

Soderbergh’s style as seen in Ocean’s 11 and Logan Lucky comes into play here. While High Flying Bird is hardly a heist film, there are elements of this genre clearly at play. Ray doesn’t show all his cards to anyone, and if you’ve seen Soderbergh’s other works, you know there will be a reveal at some point. It works very well in this sports management world, as the ruthlessness of the league, the player’s association, and the players themselves are all acting like they have the power. However, it is really Ray who sees how to pull the strings and make a change.

Final thoughts

Netflix, as a common thread, isn’t pushing this film as hard as they should be. I scrolled through my recently added, popular, and suggested list before finally searching for the film by name. It’s a shame, as it’s a fun film with a compelling premise and plenty of talent…not to mention the novelty of it being done on an iPhone – which aside from the wide angle close-ups, isn’t noticeable at all. High Flying Bird gets the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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