Friday, August 5, 2011

Bird (1988)

A Noble Effort

"There are no second acts in American lives." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

- A poignant phrase to set the tone for the film, the quote above by F. Scot Fitzgerald is used to open Clint Eastwood's1988 film Bird about the life of jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. In fact, the quote captures the essence of the wasted life of Bird Parker, the brilliant trail-blazing musician cut down by the vices of substance, probably better than the entire film did. One can tell that director Clint Eastwood and company put in a lot of time, effort, and passion into Bird; unfortunately, the film suffers from a few crippling drawbacks.

The quality of the film's visual presentation is beyond question. Clint Eastwood and cinematographer Jack N. Green paint a very visually stimulating picture of Bird's life in the 40s and 50s - from the picture quality to the art direction, Bird looks terrific.

The film is also filled with excellent music - from the original music from Lennie Niehaus to the source jazz used for the film. Looking and sounding good is important for a film - and in the case of Bird, enough to carry it into the above average category - but there has to be more, and Bird does not fly high enough to achieve it.

Bird is often called a "tribute" to or "collage" of Parker's life, rather than existing as a pure biography film. Such words do describe the film's intentions well; unfortunately, Bird is a bit too collage-like for its own good. The film jumps around in time and space too much and one often wonders where they are within the film - it makes the film messier and harder to follow.

On top of this is the acting, which fails to be anything spectacular. None of the principles really shine - Samuel E. Wright gives the best performance in the film but he is in a small supporting role. Forest Whitaker gives an impassioned, sometimes powerful, portrayal of Charlie Parker but never seems to really get a hold of the character and Diane Venora gives a clear example of outlandish overacting as Chan Parker (Bird's bird) and it completely ruins scenes.

As a big fan of Clint Eastwood and jazz music, I really wanted to love this movie but because of the messy narrative and substandard acting I simply could not. Bird remains a noble effort by Eastwood and Whitaker but not a great film.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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