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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Bird
Bird
Warner Bros. // R // July 22, 2008
List Price: $20.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted August 28, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Clint Eastwood's Academy Award winning biography of Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker is an interesting film, even if it is a fairly flawed picture in some regards. The film took home an Oscar for Best Sound and Eastwood himself earned a Golden Globe for Best Director when the film first played in 1988, starring a young would-be Best Actor winner named Forest Whitaker in the lead.

When the film begins, Charlie Parker is rising in fame and influence. His unique style of free jazz is taking off and his critical acclaim is on the rise. Unfortunately, Parker is a very troubled man and his musical genius is soon over shadowed by his heroin addiction. Parker's rampant drug abuse and hard drinking soon takes its toll on him and those around soon realize that he's really gone off into his own world, where he truly cares only for his music. His wife, Chan (Diane Verona) does what she can to stand by him but can only take so much while his friends and confidents, Dizzy Gillespie (Samuel E. Wright) and Red Rodney (Michael Zelnicker) find they can no longer rely on him for much of anything. All the while, his fantastic saxophone playing keeps him in the limelight, warts and all.

Director Clint Eastwood's love of jazz is hardly a secret. He's talked about it plenty of times and he's obviously a huge fan of Charlie Parker to have wanted to make this picture in the first place. Interestingly enough, however, the focus of the film isn't so much on Charlie Parker himself but on how his problems affect the people who care about him and the story is told more from that perspective than directly from Parker's (this isn't helped by the fact that the time line jumps around and the film does not unfold in a linear fashion). This is an interesting idea but results in a bit of a mixed bag as far as the film's focus goes as there are definitely parts where the film feels more like the story of Chan Parker rather than Charlie. While this allows the film to lay out and interpret the facts surrounding Parker's life and career, what it doesn't so well is make much of a character out of him. He's more of a conduit for complications into the lives of those around him, the cause of their effect so to speak. As a result, the film isn't a beginning to end picture of Parker's life, rather a series of snapshots taken by those around him and presented in a deliberate, if uneven, order.

That said, when the focus is more on Parker than not, Whitaker shines in the role and you can absolutely so the sparks of the great performer he's since become (when given the right material, at least). Whitaker really is a great choice to play Parker and he does a fine job here. Even more impressive than Whitaker, however, is Diane Verona as his wife. She's a very sympathetic character and her performance makes the most out of the rather tragic life she shared with her husband. You definitely get the sense that these two really do love each other and the believability of their on-screen relationship together is a big boost to the film, particularly because so much of the focus of the film is on Parker's personal life and troubles rather than his contributions to music or his professional career.

Jack N. Green's cinematography does a good job of capturing the smooth, smoky darkness of the jazz clubs of the era but also manages to do a fine job of keeping the performers up front and center. The score, which mixes Parker's own music in with contributions from modern jazz artists (an interesting if not always completely successful experiment) pulls some emotion out of us at the appropriate times. The film is quite well made on a technical level, it just doesn't paint as detailed a portrait of Charlie Parker himself as it could have.r

The Video:

Bird is presented an anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer that, sadly, doesn't look so hot. Granted, a large part of the film is set inside some dark, dingy clubs so a smoky and low light look is appropriate to a certain extent. That said, some of the scenes are just too dark and there's considerably more print damage and debris noticeable on the picture than there should be. Shadow detail isn't as strong as is needed and at times the image looks a bit soft. Color reproduction is at least accurate even if the quality of the black levels varies from time to time. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement but the film really would have benefited from a stronger restoration than it has been given here.

The Audio:

Warner Brothers provides a decent English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix as well as a French language Dolby Surround Stereo track. Optional subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The 5.1 track is pretty solid, using the rear channels to fill in the score nicely and to provide some welcome ambient noise in the club scenes. Dialogue is sharp and clear and the levels are all well balanced. Not surprisingly, the score is quite prominent in the mix and it sounds quite nice here, the horns in particular have a nice resonant quality to them.

The Extras:

Disappointingly, the extras are very slim on this release. Included on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer (1:48, anamorphic widescreen) and a very welcome music only audio track that basically plays the film's score. There's also a list of awards that the film won. Included as a second disc in this set is a six song bonus CD that contains six tracks from the soundtrack (not the complete soundtrack itself). Aside from that, there are some menus and chapter selection - that's it.

Overall:

The extras and the transfer are a little disappointing on this release even if the surround sound mix is nice. As for Bird itself? It's worth a watch even if it has some problems. Eastwood's direction is good and Forest Whitaker's performance is strong, making up for some of the flaws. While not a classic, it's a worthwhile film and a very solid choice for a rental.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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