Steven Soderbergh’s second iPhone-shot feature, High Flying Bird follows slick sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) as he attempts to hold onto his status (and his job) during a drawn-out NBA lockout – with the narrative focused primarily on Ray’s ongoing interactions with a promising new player named Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg). Filmmaker Soderbergh, working from a script by Tarell Alvin McCraney, admittedly does an effective job of instantly luring the viewer into the proceedings, as High Flying Bird, armed with Soderbergh’s typically striking visual sensibilities, kicks off with a talk-heavy yet intriguing sequence detailing a lunch meeting between Holland and Gregg’s respective characters. It does become increasingly apparent past that point, however, that the picture suffers from a standoffishness that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, with the lack of a palpable entry point for basketball neophytes ensuring that High Flying Bird‘s midsection can’t help but come off as inaccessible and uninvolving (ie the movie, much like 2011’s Moneyball, generally plays like a sports-centric, and perpetually hands-off, procedural). And although Soderbergh has peppered the narrative with a small handful of compelling sequences (eg Ray delivers an impassioned speech to a group of high schoolers), High Flying Bird is, for the most part, a meticulously-filmed exercise in tedium that’s ultimately unable to make the impact its final scenes are clearly striving for.
** out of ****