If you don’t follow professional basketball, Steven Soderbergh’s drama offers an intensive crash course into what’s known as a “lockout”, which is when the collective-bargaining agreement between the NBA (National Basketball Association) and the Players Association collapses and games are suspended.
Soderbergh and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) weave a talky, constantly fist-bumping story around a fictional moratorium that centres on persuasive agent André Holland (who originated the story), assistant Zazie Beetz (a superstar in the making), rival rep Sonja Sohn (a regular in The Wire) and hot-headed baller Melvin Gregg (TV’s UnREAL), and moves constantly between office, street, apartment, sauna and the court at a Bronx high school.
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Like previous film Unsane, Soderbergh shoots on a mobile phone – this time the iPhone 8– and its custom widescreen lens pleasingly distorts at the edges as it bends the pixels into frame, while fixed shots at tabletop or floor level are crisp and bright.
Purists may feel it lacks a certain grain and renders the reality flat. And when Holland hustles his client with “Netflix wants to sit down tomorrow, only thing they don’t have is live streaming,” you’ll either applaud the metatextuality in a film released by Netflix or boo the ostentatious product placement.
High Flying Bird is on Netflix