Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich) examines the power dynamics of modern basketball in this talky drama set in New York.
The film is set during an NBA lockout, where negotiations between the team owners and players have broken down to the point that no basketball is being played. Sports agent Ray Burke (Moonlight's Andre Holland) is attempting to guide one of the hottest new stars in the game, Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg) through the lockout, but both men are frustrated by how little power they have in the face of the white team owners.
Following the intense viral reaction to an impromptu game of one-on-one between Erick and another popular young player, Ray begins to consider ways in which the players can reclaim the upper hand in the big money world of professional basketball.
High Flying Bird is the second film shot entirely on an iPhone by Soderbergh (following last year's Unsane). It principally takes place in pristine offices and conference rooms, and it seems like nothing in the frame is ever out of focus, including the stunning skyscraper-laden backdrops. The extreme digital clarity is initially somewhat distracting, but ultimately quite appealing.
Holland is fantastic in the lead, and there are engaging supporting performances from Sonja Sohn (The Wire) and the great Bill Duke (Commando, Predator). Keep an eye out for Kiwi actress Michelle Ang (My Wedding and Other Secrets) in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role.
Non-NBA fans may find the specifics of what the characters discuss somewhat bewildering, but the film nevertheless makes its message about exploitation loud and clear.
Andre Holland, Zazie Beetz, Kyle MacLachlan
A nimble and entertaining sports drama that requires a prior interest in basketball to be truly impactful