Director: Steven Soderbergh
Release Date: February 8, 2019 (Netflix)
Netflix’s latest film featuring some notable stars and, of course, big-name director Steven Soderbergh, is a refreshing take on sports movies. Soderbergh shows the rest of the industry what he can do with a small budget ($2 million) and an iPhone. Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who also wrote the 2016 masterpiece Moonlight, High Flying Bird is a deep dive into the business side of pro sports and the implications of what it would mean to take back the on court product in a world that doesn’t need the rich white owners to cut the checks.
Sports agent Ray Burke and his newly signed No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Erick Scott, are in the middle of a lockout. The film highlights the agent and player, so it’s closer to Jerry Macguire than more traditional sports story such as Hoosiers or Glory Road. Erick is off to a rocky start to his career. He has not been paid because of a lockout and has taken a high interest loan that he can’t pay back in the down time. With pressure from his agency and the players and owners sides not budging on their terms, Ray puts into play an elaborate plan to force an end to the lockout or, as he puts it, “play the game on top of the game.”
As a young NBA rookie, Erick Scott is incredibly naive. He makes some insensitive comments about Ray’s cousin who has passed away and doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize that it’s clearly a sensitive subject. He appears to be a one and done player who describes his game as “street ball, take the clock off and I’ll smoke a dude” something that the hot shot in your pick up game at the gym says at the lunch hour downtown. He’s also unable to see people taking advantage of him by giving him a ridiculously high interest short term loan he makes all the mistakes of a typical rookie. This trait makes him the perfect pawn in Ray’s plan.
Touching on today’s way of talking shit, Erick gets into a Twitter beef with teammate Jamero Umber. Jamero is a pretty forgettable character but it seems as that is by design as his mother is basically a classier more stuck up version of Lavar Ball.
The movie cuts in and out of the main narrative with real life interviews with NBA stars such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell, and Reggie Jackson to give some insight on what it’s like to be in the league. This interviews are fine but really all their takes are very water is wet obvious boring takes. They talk about what it’s like to be a rookie and how you need to be careful financially and keep your circle tight with good influences, things all NBA veterans say regularly to the young guys. These interviews were meant as a way to get some good insight that the audience might not already know and to show us some familiar NBA stars but really adds nothing to the narrative.
As the second Netflix film in two weeks that features notable and proven big-time stars (Velvet Buzzsaw last week), it appears that Netflix making noise with its straight to streaming way of producing films becoming the norm.
High Flying Bird touches on the possibility of an old and proven machine in the NBA having to change with the times to stay relevant. That can be seen as a reflection to what’s happening in the movie industry. As more proven filmmakers such as Soderburgh are turning to streaming services as a way to get their movies made, traditional big time studios may also need to change their old ways of doing things to remain relevant in the face of steady big-time competition. Running at a very lean, watchable 90 minutes, High Flying Bird is a very easy watch. Check it out if you’re a sports fan if not? You’ll live if you miss this one.