Lives of great innovators, backed by quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald and guided to the screen by great directors and performers, are surely ideal pickings for Awards season. Great, proud Americans coming together to celebrate the work of someone taken too soon. Bird, from director Clint Eastwood, is just that. Adapting the life and influential work of jazz musician Charlie Parker to the big-screen is marvellous. Not just because its musical strengths see the film through patchier spots, but because it shines a light on a not-so-mainstream name, one who was so incredibly important to the history of jazz in its heyday period.
Forest Whitaker embodies Parker rather well. He and Eastwood have some strong chemistry together, and as the camera pans around Parker playing jazz in a gloomy club, the isolation of a musician and the struggle of such work becomes clear. Pills, booze and blowouts with the family. It would seem they are inherent to the rise and fall of any great musician, but Bird utilises these frank and cutting moments as character flaws, not idolization of the rockstar lifestyle. It is hard to utilise the rockstar living when Whitaker as both an actor and a performer here is so far removed from the hijinks of hotel bust-ups or cocaine binges. Eastwood and Whitaker pair together extremely well when they focus on bringing Parker’s addiction to the screen.
A tender surprise lies within Bird, its tackling of a troubled life is well-rounded thanks to Whitaker’s command of the screen. Eastwood’s attempt at moving away from conventional notations of the biopic genre gives him a solid chance at detailing the life of a great musician. His desire to shake the narrative so suddenly and frequently leaves little room for him to imprint his own charms and notations as a director. His future films would have similar issues found within them, but without the ambition found within Bird. A handful of notable scenes give life to Parker and his talent, but it is Whitaker who can define them so well, Eastwood is just mulling around looking for something new to fixate on within this genre. He comes up with sparse yet interesting offerings.
Even then, those sparse moments are strong. They are filled with a portrayal of a man who is trying to lead the high life of a successful music career but balance that with the difficulties of raising a family. It is a human issue, that latter half, that collides with the dreams of so many. Whitaker and Diane Verona do not just engage with the chemistry between them but allow this dynamic to allow the emotions of a struggling couple to bubble over. Arguments and tears, they’re all inherent to everyday life, but Eastwood collects these moments and portrays the real, horrifying struggle Parker had in his life. Cold and uncaring at times, but that just makes those emotional bust-ups all the more touching and memorable. Bird has a few of those moments, but it would be hard to pinpoint the scenes that bring this feature to new heights. the knockout performance from Whitaker holds it all together. Without him, Eastwood would be lost with only a jazz soundtrack to accompany him. It is who he trusts to bring that love of music to life that makes or breaks Bird.