Plot: What’s it about?
This film deals with the life and career of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, from his humble roots to his premature passing. Parker (Forest Whitaker) loved to play the saxophone and when he came to New York, he was quickly noticed, as he was very skilled with the horn. So he keeps with the music and gets better & better, which means more success and down the road, even some real fame. But even as Parker wows his audiences and seems to have it all, he becomes addicted to controlled substances, which drags down his personal and professional lives. As he battles his addiction and continues to perform, his wife Chan (Diane Venora) tries to keep him off the wrong path and on the right one, but that only works to an extent. As this is a true story, I am sure most of you know what happens, but I still want to leave the remainder of the storyline up to the viewer, which should enhance the film’s impact also.
I’ve never been one for movies about musicians, but this movie is a real treat and I admit, it won me over. This jazz fueled flick was directed by Clint Eastwood, who is a jazz fanatic and as such, the natural choice to helm this motion picture. The visuals match the subject matter to perfection, with deep blacks and blues, which form a dark, moody atmosphere. I do think it is a very depressing and downbeat film, but since that seems to be a reasonable choice, I suppose no complaints can be lodged. Just don’t spin this disc and expect a spiritual elevation, because this film provides anything but a pick-me-up. I like the performances here a lot, with flawless turns by Forest Whitaker and Diane Venora, as well as solid efforts from the supporting cast. So when you combine Eastwood’s good direction, the intense visuals, and a great cast, then you know Bird is going to be good, but it does have some flaws also. The main issue here is length, as Bird runs almost three hours and does lag at times, but it still comes through as a solid film in the end. If you’re a jazz fan or just want to see a good movie, then this one is more than recommended from this reviewer.
I’ve always liked the performances of Forest Whitaker, but I think this one perhaps top them all, which is a real compliment. Whitaker seems so natural in this role and though it breaks your heart to watch him here, Whitaker lights up this very dark motion picture with his presence. This role seems to be an unusual one for him, but he tackles it with might and never looks back. I know he did win some awards for his work here (including the Golden Globe), but it is a shame he was shunned at the Academy Awards, as he deserved at least a nomination. If you’re a fan of his and you’ve never seen this film, don’t waste another second, as you simply must view his work here. Other films with Whitaker include The Crying Game, Battlefield Earth, Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai, Platoon, Blown Away, and Smoke. The rest of the cast includes Michael Zelnicker (Queens Logic, Naked Lunch), Samuel E. Wright (The Little Mermaid, Dinosaur), Michael McGuire (They Might Be Giants, Partners), and Diane Venora (The Insider, Romeo + Juliet).
Video: How does it look?
Bird is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This movie has some years behind it, but it looks strong here and with this new widescreen presentation, better than ever. Now this is one dark movie, filled with black and deep blue hues, but this transfer seems to handle the elements with no troubles. Sometimes the image looks a little too dark, but I saw minimal evidence of detail loss, so no real complaints there. The colors fall into place with the contrast scheme, so if the hues seem a little muted, don’t panic. No issues with compression flaws either, I saw very few problems on that front. This is the best this movie has ever looked and even with a few minor flaws, I think fans will be very pleased here.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby Digital 5.1 track is used here, which opens up the musical score, but also presents some problems. As is sometimes the case with these remixed tracks, the audio can seem hollow at times, which lowers the impact somewhat. But I do think the good is more present that the bad, although not enough to raise the score too much. Most of the music sounds very good here, but in a few instances, it just seems off a little and that causes me to lower the grade here. Some nice surround use is also found in the sound effects, but don’t expect to be overwhelmed from the dynamic audio. The vocals always sound clean also, no volume or clarity issues in the least here. This disc also includes a French 2.0 surround track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer, some talent files, and an isolated musical score. The isolated score is very welcome here and since the music is the real focus of Bird, this is like an audio commentary in this case.