High Flying Bird ★★★ 

Steven Soderbergh has made a basketball movie, and, as you might expect from the director, there isn’t more than a minute of basketball action in the whole film. Instead, High Flying Bird focuses on the politics, personalities and power structures that keep the nation’s sexiest sport in the hands of a few rich, white owners. The winding, whip-smart tale follows agent Ray (André Holland) as he attempts to turn the tide of an NBA lockout to benefit his young and hungry star client, Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg)—and with him, the rest of the sport’s young black athletes. It’s a story of money and mind games, sure, but don’t expect Ocean’s Eleven. High Flying Bird is much colder, at times even clinical, and it’s more interested in the long-term work of resistance than heist plots and celebrations. Documentary-style snippets of interviews with real NBA players add contextual support while fragmenting the narrative’s emotional arc. Writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) is owed his due for the tight script, which only falters when its direct name-drops of Netflix, Twitter and other digital media behemoths begin to overshadow the story. Then again, it’s no surprise that Soderbergh—who shot both High Flying Bird and Unsane entirely on iPhones—is a bit obsessed with commenting on our digital age. Perhaps next time he’ll see that capturing such a powerful film on the toy everyone has in their pocket is commentary enough. Streaming on Netflix.

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