Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora DIRECTOR
Clint Eastwood SCREENPLAY
Joel Oliansky MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
161 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
Clint Eastwood's 1988 biopic of jazz legend Charlie "Bird" Parker is a soulful tribute to a man whose music is legendary, heart is recognized and struggles with drug addiction were well documented throughout his musical career. As portrayed by Forest Whitaker, Bird is presented as a man of tremendous warmth and compassion whose awareness of his addiction never reached the point of self-pity or self-defeat...simply self-awareness. Yet, like most addicts, eventually Bird did reach the point of despair and when he died at the age of 34 his body had been ravaged by the drugs he could never kick.
Those who are aware of Eastwood's background are also aware of his love for jazz. So, while this may appear to be an unlikely choice as an Eastwood film it is, in fact, a true labor or love that blossoms in every camera shot, every musical note and every time that Whitaker is onscreen. Indeed, the technical aspects of this film are nailed to near perfection including a magnificent score, stunning sound and what has become Eastwood's trademark gift for mood setting cinematography.
The greatest weakness here lies in a script that too often ignores key moments in Parker's personal and professional life. It is as if often Eastwood would choose the mood-setting piece over plot exposition. It is only thanks to Whitaker's performance, which won him a Golden Globe, that we are truly able to bond with Bird and truly care about his lifelong challenges.
Supporting actress Diane Venora captured several festival acting prizes, and the film's sound captured the Oscar. I don't fancy myself a jazz fan, and yet Whitaker's performance draws you in to the life of Charlie Parker. Whitaker's winning performance, along with Eastwood's refined delicate approach to the material works together to create a film that captures the true soul of Charlie "Bird" Parker.
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