I've always been talking about how sudden Clint Eastwood's jump from being a hardcore man's man with no name to a major, kind of sappy dramatic was, but really, I think that this film showed that his transformation was more steady than that, for although this is a drama about a black musician hitting it big during hard times and going on to posthumously become an icon to the hipster subculture, but this is jazz we're talking about, and it doesn't get much flyer than that, cool cat. Well, maybe back in the late '80s, when we still had enough bleed over from the era of jazz to where saying something like "it doesn't get much flyer than that, cool cat" didn't sound lame; but eitherway, the point is that Eastwood was cool even when he was laming out a bit, which isn't to say that he's not still pretty awesome even now, because although he's in his 80s and seemingly very nice now, I'm still intimidated by the dude. Okay, maybe I should cut back a bit on talking about Eastwood, because the way I and too many other people who talk about this film are talking about Eastwood so much, you'd think that he's doing more than directing and producing, and is actually in the movie, in a fat suit and in blackface, playing the saxaphone, only his voice is so deep that even the sound produced by the sax is gruff and raspy; in fact, it doesn't even sound like a saxaphone, it just sounds like Eastwood groaning. Poor Forest Whitaker hasn't been getting the respect he deserves, which isn't to say that I'm going to forgive him for stealing top billing from James McAvoy in "The Last King of Scotland", seeing as how McAvoy was the actual main lead in that film, but I do still have to say that Whitaker needs some love, especially when you see how good he is in this film. He really gave me a lot of deep insight into the world of jazz, and now I feel like I should look more into the genre, because up until now, my closest thing to jazz had to have been Raphael Ravenscroft certain famous sax solo. It should tell you how white I am that my closest association to jazz sax was Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street", until I saw this Clint Eastwood film starring Forest Whitaker, who really isn't all that black to begin with. Well, I can certainly at least tell you that he's quite the acting talent, though he smooth moves aren't quite enough to drown the blues spawned from some unrealized potential with this film.
The film opens jarringly plopping us in the middle of a key segment in Charlie Parker's life with no immediate development or, by extension, basis for immediate emotional investment. I love a good flashfoward opening, but that took much too long and was handled too sloppily, which isn't to say that the film didn't continue to get spotty with its handling of the flashbacks, for although major non-linear moments fall into place here and there, they're still jarring and dropped in at too unfitting of points, with a couple of segments of glaring inconsistencies in story focus and direction making it all the worse, thus leaving the film to throw off the audience and become convoluted. The reason why, outside of the aforementioned, seems to be that while the story jumps all over the place, it's hard to tell when it jumps exactly or even when it's doing something different, in general, as the film walks a straight line in storytelling, or at least until it loops back around. Much of the film is so very repetitive, as well as jumbled, and the sting of that all hurts worse when it's under the intensifying grip of consistent slowness that dulls the film down and leaves it to pump out steam faster than it was already doing when it simply had repetition, some story unevenness and convolution to worry about. Still, it all ultimately comes down to the film's lack of depth, for although Eastwood seems to be inspired enough to give the film weight, as I'll get into later, there's really never enough exposition or focus, let alone dynamicity in this study of such a fascinating spirit, even with its 160 minute runtime, making it both underwhelming as a character study and as a portrait of the late, great Charlie Parker. I suppose Clint Eastwood has never been a terribly great storyteller, and yet, outside of that aspect, he's a perfectly competent director, especially when he's inspired, and make no mistake, he is inspired with this film. Sure, that inspiration may be detrimental to the film, as it plagues the film with overambition, yet at the end of the day, this film wins you over in many ways, including style.
Clint Eastwood seems to love that dark lighting, which is great and all, but this Jack N. Green fellow is certainly no Tom Stern when it comes making Eastwood's taste in style look as good as all get-out, as we can clearly see at the points where it's so dark that you really have no idea what's going on onscreen. Still, more often than not, Green delivers on handsome style and visual grace to capture the smooth but dramatically deep tone of the film, while the nifty production designs subtley but noticably capture the film's roaring time period and the fine sound design makes the classic tunes that much more boastful. Still, one of the biggest key players in livening up this world is, of course, Clint Eastwood, whose storytelling flaws remain the darkest, most potential-squandering faults in the film, yet he all but makes up for them with his accomplishments as director on a tonal level. Sure, the tone of the film is hardly diverse, yet if there is something good to come out of its consistency, then it's probably gonna have to consistent effectiveness, as the film, while not structured to have a lot of depth, still has much resonance and emotional impact pried from it by Eastwood, whose subtle and graceful touches of sobering resonance and meditation gives the film the deeply compelling weight needed to keep going and ultimately reward the viewers. Eastwood's compelling tone is certainly backed up by the performances, all of which are distinctive and compelling, with charisma and chemistry keeping the film anchored down to earth. Still, this is Forest Whitaker's show, and you better believe that he's not gonna let you forget it, conquering the screen with Charlie Parker's classic charisma and wit placed on such a transformative level that, after a while, Whitaker melts away and becomes Parker, complete with that engaging stature and presence. However, it wasn't all roses in the life of Yardbird, and Whitaker, realizing that, swiftly and awe-inspiringly champions emotional depth, incorporating human vulnerability and powerful emoting in his strong and charismatic presence in order to give us a truly subtle, yet palpable sense of a good man trapped by circumstance and his own mistakes, and whether he's compellingly portraying Parker's regrets or nailing the anguish found in Parker during his unbearable final days, Whitaker owns the screen with transformative profoundness that carries the picture.
At the end of the show, such storytelling faults as occasional uneven focus and jarring non-linear shifts supplement steam loss intensified slowness, repetition and overall lack of detail in the somewhat tight-to-a-fault, yet lengthy story, yet with handsome style to engage the eyes and ears, as well as inspired tonal direction by Clint Eastwood and a long line of strong performances, headed by a charismatic, layered, emotional and ultimately rivetingly transformative Forest Whitaker, "Bird" soars on as an ultimately thoroughly enjoyable portrait on the life of the King of Bebop, even with its areas of unrealized potential.
3/5 - Good