Review: 'High Flying Bird' looks at business of basketball

Steven Soderbergh goes minimalist in slick look at mechanics of NBA

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Andre Holland in "High Flying Bird."

Steven Soderbergh's "High Flying Bird" is a different kind of basketball drama, one that focuses on the action off the court, "the game on top of the game," as one character describes it. 

Unfolding during the sixth month of an NBA lockout, "High Flying Bird" examines the business of basketball, from the team owners to the agents to the players to the coaches in small neighborhood gyms to the kids who grow up wanting to be like their heroes. He mixes in interviews with real NBA players, including the Detroit Pistons' Reggie Jackson, adding to the film's authenticity. 

The fast-talking script by Tarell Alvin McCraney dives right in and doesn't wait for viewers to play catch-up. André Holland ("Moonlight") is Ray, an agent at a mega firm, who is repping Erick (Melvin Gregg), a rookie on his way to the NBA. Early on, Ray schools Erick on his finances and his role in the big machine that is professional sports. "In order to sell merch and inspire rap lyrics," he says, "they need your services."

Ray talks a good game, but the NBA lockout is affecting his pocketbook too. So he schemes and devises a game on top of the game on top of the game, one which leverages his client, his connections in the neighborhood and a big money deal from a certain high profile streaming provider in an effort to set himself up for success. It's play or be played, and Ray knows how to work the system. 

So does Soderbergh. Like his previous film "Unsane," he shoots "High Flying Bird" on an iPhone, giving it a stark, cold, minimalist look that fits its run-and-gun offensive strategy. It's a slick story with a slick look to match. He shoots, he scores.


'High Flying Bird'


Not rated: language

Running time: 90 minutes

On Netflix