Shot on an iPhone 8, HIGH FLYING BIRD’s fast action isn’t on the basketball courts, it’s in the parlance between basketball agent Ray Burke (André Holland) and the players, Team Owners (Kyle MacLachlan, Glenn Fleshler) and players representatives during a lockout. Tensions rise as no one is getting paid. The film is Interwoven with some actual players (Reggie Jackson, Karl-Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell) in documentary style interviews, and their real-life league experiences, authenticity rings through the witty, smart script.
With the lockout as a palette,Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney’s script paints a picture of the racial divide between said owners and players, as well as the have and have nots. Reference is made to “the game on top of the game,” which is about money and power (of course) and the split between the owners and the players.
Ray treads the slippery slope between the negotiations with the help of his savvy assistant (Zazie Beetz) and the players’ association rep Myra (Sonja Sohn). Burke’s angst over the player’s conditions is heavy, as he talks with youth basketball coach Spence (the always brilliant Bill Duke) while watching young players at the Bronx Community Gym.
It was fun to watch Zazie Beets as “Sam” brashly step in ahead of Ray and Myra, her youth and social media savvy a big boost to their old school methodology as she helps1st draft pick Erick (Melvin Gregg) with a twitter spat with teammate Jamero (Justin Hurtt-Dunkley). Echoing real-life, success is reserved for the brave and persistent. The eventual showdown between Eric and Jamero at a charity event leads to an office meeting of the agent, the players rep, the young assistant, and the youth basketball coach. When slavery is mentioned, Coach Spence firmly intones. “I have a rule on my court. Anybody who refers to the institution of slavery in front of me, particularly in reference to basketball or its players, must say the words or they are banished forever. “I love the Lord and all his black people.”
When Ray gets a brilliant idea involving Netflix that might put the control of game in the players hands, he tells Spence “I just wanted to snatch the game out of their hands for a minute. I don’t need it, I just wanted to hold it just for a second, so they know like I know.” This is a deep, well-thought out, quick moving symphony of a story, and even if you don’t like basketball, the deep dive into the “game on top of the game” is both entertaining and informative.
Side note: A young indie filmmaker told us that it’s a testament to Steven Soderbergh that he can get away with shooting on iPhone 8, if one them tried that they’d be labeled lazy and cheap, not brilliant.
Not so, young grasshopper. It’s about the story, and directing, not the medium.
Production companies: Extension 765, Harper Road
Cast: 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
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Tarell Alvin McCraney
Producer: Joseph Malloch
Executive producers: Ken Meyer, Andre Holland
Director of photography: Peter Andrews
Production designer: Andy Eklund
Costume designer: Marci Rodgers
Editor: Mary Ann Bernard
Music: David Wilder Savage
Casting: Carmen Cuba