“You care all the best way, otherwise you don’t care in any respect, man,” retired-basketball-player-turned-youth-coach Spence (Invoice Duke) tells sports activities agent Ray (André Holland) early in Excessive Flying Fowl. Spence is preaching to the transformed, however as Ray engages in some harmful negotiations, the sermon appears good for his spirits anyway. A brand new Netflix drama directed by Steven Soderbergh from a script by Moonlight playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, Excessive Flying Fowl is dominated by Ray’s perception that zeal and dedication should override all different considerations. Cash, respect, energy: they’re all secondary, the byproducts of doing no matter you do by the best potential requirements, it doesn’t matter what the powers that be throw in your method.
It’s no accident that Ray’s credo sounds a bit paying homage to Soderbergh’s filmmaking ethos. The movie isn’t simply involved with the pursuit of excellence within the summary. Although it takes time to disclose its true nature, that is as political a movie as Soderbergh has ever made. He and McCraney look like curious about nothing lower than the best way entrenched energy constructions may be taken aside by these on their decrease ranges.
For Ray, that entails some mixture of bullheadedness and deception. An agent who spends most of Excessive Flying Fowl in what seems to be knowledgeable downward spiral, Ray is endlessly upset that not sufficient of the folks round him share his fervency in caring about doing issues proper — not Erick (American Vandal’s Melvin Gregg), a could-be-star making unhealthy monetary choices as an NBA lockout prevents him from beginning what can be his rookie season; not Ray’s boss (Zachary Quinto), who’s shocked to be taught that Ray has put apart a share of his fee as a rainy-day fund for his purchasers; and definitely not the NBA homeowners, who’re betting they will put the squeeze on hungry athletes who wish to play, and earn, earlier than their time runs out, by no means thoughts what their lockout does to the sport and those that like it.
However ardour is a fragile factor, possibly even for Ray, who spends a lot of the movie in heated, typically annoyed conversations as he tries to steer, strain, or trick those that don’t share his imaginative and prescient. The precise form of that imaginative and prescient is simply absolutely revealed within the movie’s remaining moments. At first, it looks like Ray simply desires a good deal for Erick and an opportunity for the NBA’s self-discipline to hone his expertise into form. However as gamers’ rep Myra (Sonja Sohn) tells Ray’s someday assistant Sam (Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz), Ray’s demeanor suggests he has larger plans, possibly associated to the construction of the NBA itself. “They invented a sport on high of a sport,” Spence tells him, reflecting on the exploitative, racially unbalanced relationship between homeowners and gamers. Ray is likely to be attempting to invent a sport on high of that.
It isn’t all the time straightforward to comply with Ray’s three-dimensional chess strikes, however Excessive Flying Fowl seldom stops transferring lengthy sufficient for that to matter. Taking pictures on iPhone — as he did along with his earlier characteristic Unsane — Soderbergh appears to be having fun with the liberty to improvise. In a single scene, he locations the digicam behind the garnishes atop a bar. In one other, he lingers on Sam’s face as she reacts to a dialog between Erick and Ray.
This day out, Soderbergh used a wide-angle lens created by Moondog Labs, the identical firm that equipped the lenses utilized in Sean Baker’s groundbreaking iPhone film Tangerine. As with Baker’s movie, it isn’t all the time obvious that the movie was created by means of a telephone digicam. Soderbergh shot Unsane in two weeks, and the cheapness of the look felt like a part of the film’s grungy aesthetic. Right here, Soderbergh has totally different aesthetic goals, exploring the immersive prospects of the iPhone’s sharply detailed photographs when capturing in public areas like eating places and bars, utilizing its portability to create lengthy walk-and-talk photographs, and making use of its light-weight really feel to intimate close-ups. (Generally it’s uncomfortably intimate, as in a scene wherein a boorish group proprietor performed by Kyle MacLachlan tasks mucus out of his nostril as a part of a gross energy play.)
But, no matter how the movie appears to be like, Soderbergh’s pacing and present for enhancing are what hold the motion tight, whereas McCraney’s crisp dialogue livens up doubtlessly mundane, exposition-heavy exchanges. His script lets the forged — particularly Sohn, Beetz, and Holland — tear into one memorable change after one other, beginning with a gap scene wherein Ray lectures Erick on his misplaced priorities.
The one downside: the primary act lights a bunch of fuses, however only some erupt into fireworks. The suggestion of a darkish secret in Ray’s previous is revealed as a belabored little bit of backstory, some promised threats by no means materialize, and a few confrontations are sidestepped. A few of these are a part of the sport of misdirection on the coronary heart of the movie. Others seem to be acts of willful perversity, as with a mid-film sport of one-on-one between Erick and a rival. The setup means that Excessive Flying Fowl is about to turn into a full-on sports activities film, fairly than a film concerning the enterprise of sports activities, after which Soderbergh cuts away earlier than the motion even begins.
However a few of the deserted setups really feel like plotting that might use just a little extra tightening. Sam will get a few of the movie’s greatest traces, as she impatiently counsels Ray whereas attempting to determine what he’s as much as. She virtually unintentionally falls right into a relationship with Erick whereas shepherding him round New York. However whereas Beetz is usually terrific, her character largely drifts by means of the movie in service to different characters’ dramatic wants. It’s additionally onerous to not want that Sohn’s character had extra display screen time. That is the uncommon Netflix film that feels prefer it would possibly work even higher as an episodic collection when so typically, the converse is true.
Nonetheless, Excessive Flying Fowl proves Ray proper by letting his ardour overpower different considerations. Soderbergh limits the basketball motion to TV screens and YouTube clips, however on the coronary heart of the film is an unmistakable concern for the sport, its pitfalls, and its future. And that’s bolstered by interview segments with NBA stars like Donovan Mitchell, Reggie Jackson, and Karl-Anthony Cities. (Soderbergh entertained utilizing the same system for his aborted model of Moneyball, which was finally directed by Bennett Miller.) And when Holland finally lets his forehead unfurrow for the primary time because the opening scene, he makes the ultimate moments particularly satisfying, even when they’ll probably push some viewers to Google sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards, in an try and decode a climactic however elliptical reference to his work. However even the best way the movie’s finish is sort of a “learn extra about it” analysis challenge appears like a aware a part of the design. By its conclusion, Soderbergh has revealed Excessive Flying Fowl as much less curious about how issues finish than how they get began.
Excessive Flying Fowl launches on North American Netflix (and, as normal for Netflix’s tonier choices, in just a few choose theaters) on February eighth, 2019.