Oh man, I hate this review. This bad review should tell how underwhelming this is. I was really looking foward to this and yet, here we are. Still, "Birdy", though nothing too special, remains a moving portrait on friendship and the desire for freedom in many situations, led by strong performances from Cage and Modine.
It isn't your usual Hollywood tale, but they told it using standard visuals, but still made it special. The mark of a great script and director who didn't get in the way by trying to do too much visually. It is based on an experimental novel worth reading, and the movie did a good job capturing its unique qualities.
I know people who believe that every other Nicolas Cage movie is worth watching. I don't think it's quite that easy; for one thing, I think that his career average of good movies has varied more wildly than that over the history of his career, and he's now down below 50%. The thing is, though, that when he's good, he's really good. He's a fine, talented actor who just happened to have a weakness for really crappy movies. I mean, he's also nuts, which I can't think helps the situation. But I watch movies like this and wonder what the cause is on things like that. Is it that he's nuts? Or is it that he has bad taste in scripts? And does Nicolas Cage ever realize how terrible the movie is while he's making it? I think not, on that last, because he was apparently quite enthusiastic on the set of [i]The Wicker Man[/i], giving suggestions which actually managed to make it a worse movie. Which I have to say is pretty impressive.
Here, he is Al Columbato, a Vietnam veteran who was horribly scarred when a shell went off mere feet away from him. This was so recently that his face is still bandaged, but he is sent to a different VA hospital--this one for mental illness. His best friend, who goes by the nickname of "Birdy" (Matthew Modine), has completely retreated into himself. At first, they didn't even know who he was. And so they send for Al in the hopes that he will draw Birdy out. And indeed, Al recognizes the behaviour for what it is; Birdy is nesting. As he tries to snap Birdy out of it, for his benefit as well as Birdy's, the story of their friendship is told in flashbacks. We discover that Birdy was never normal, was always obsessed with birds and flying. We also learn that Al is none too stable himself and is afraid that the doctor (John Harkins) will discover that and lock him up as well. He also believes that he, unlike Birdy, would at least have a chance to get out; unless Birdy snaps out of it, he never will.
Apparently, the novel is about World War II veterans, but I have to say that I think setting it during Vietnam works even better. After all, one of the reasons that Al, at least, is so messed up is that he doesn't know what he was fighting for. You could see the reasons for World War II, especially if you were fighting in the European Theatre of Operations and were in one of the units which liberated a concentration camp. But Vietnam was less certain. In essence, we were fighting to stop the spread of an idea, and that's a lot harder to justify, especially if you aren't the sharpest tool in the shed. And Al isn't very bright and Birdy isn't very stable, and the war does bad things to them both. Too, Vietnam had a lot of use of napalm, which killed birds and their habitats, and that would not go over well with someone obsesses with all things avian. I've not read the book, but I think the changes are minor for most of the story and beneficial for the rest. And, of course, most of what happens in the boys' adolescence is timeless.
Al has a drunken, vicious father (Sandy Baron). Birdy has a surly, domineering mother (Dolores Sage). This is the background of the boys' life, though Birdy does have a very happy relationship with his father (George Buck). Birdy's mother probably wants him to be normal, but she can't just berate him into it, much though she may try. She also disapproves mightily of Al, who is Birdy's only human friend, and wants him to make other human friends and stop associating with Al or the birds. But as we see when Birdy goes to the prom, he doesn't know how to relate to other humans. Doris Robinson (Maud Winchester), his date, pretty much throws herself at him, and he doesn't respond in the way she'd hope. By which I mean he basically doesn't respond. And when she asks if she'll see him again, he says of course she will. On school on Monday. You don't have to be Mr. Smooth to know that it isn't exactly the answer Doris is looking for.
But of course, the character never gets a name other than "Birdy." The only character he really relates to entirely is Perta (Bird No. 9, according to the credits), and the woman who sells Perta to him (whose name I missed) tries to encourage him to buy a different bird. "Fliers aren't good breeders," she says, and she tells him that Perta is a heartbreaker. (Of course, the woman has a slightly odd perspective on bird reproduction, given her references to the Bible.) Al knows that to reveal that Birdy has already had an incident where he believed he could fly would be one more bar in Birdy's cage. But it also means that he is not surprised that, when Birdy needs somewhere safe from the world, he retreats into his head and his dreams of flight. Then again, maybe if he'd reminded Birdy that he had a human name, that might have helped matters as well. And might not have suggested to the hospital staff that maybe they were dealing with a preexisting condition.
Il est heureux que le scénario ne s'essouffle jamais car le reste (réalisation, musique ...) est très classique, s'accordant certes avec le propos mais ne motivant pas vraiment le spectateur a rester.
Il faut également saluer Cage et Modine qui transcendent le script et sont le vrai atout de ce long métrage.