Saturday, September 17, 2011

FORGOTTEN GEM? Birdy

    

     “Birdy” is a different kind of war movie. It was directed by Alan Parker and is based on the novel by William Wharton (the novel is set in WWII). It has an interesting soundtrack by Peter Gabriel. It was awarded the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes in 1985. In spite of critical acclaim, it is virtually unknown and made less than $2 million at the box office. It is one of the best examinations of the mental and physical aftermaths of war.


      The film is the story of two friends who go off to the Vietnam War and return scarred. Al (Nicholas Cage), who has facial wounds, visits his best friend Birdy (Matthew Modine) in a mental hospital and tries to break through to him. Birdy thinks he is a bird and is unresponsive. There is a striking shot of Birdy perched on his bed.


      During their sessions, the movie flashs back to events in their friendship. The vignettes are endearing and include rebuilding an old car and working as dog catchers until they find out the dogs and being made into food. It quickly becomes clear that although Al is an typical urban youth, Birdy is quite strange. He is obsessed with birds and even makes wings and tries to fly! (How did this guy make it into the Army?) The movie includes a remarkable sequence of Birdy dreaming he is flying around. We see this from a bird’s eye view accompanied by cool Gabriel music. This was the first use of a skycam in a feature film. It is the most memorable scene in the movie.

     The flashbacks from Vietnam are less effective. There is a confusing scene where Al gets wounded and is on the same helicopter as Birdy. Since they went to war separately, this seems a major coincidence. The copter is shot down and the area is napalmed, but we do not find out what happened to Birdy. The ending is equally weird and I won’t give it away, but it has justly been criticized for not fitting the film.

      Forgotten gem? While not a gem, this movie deserves to be seen. It’s a bit bizarre, but it holds your attention. The two leads are better than you would think. They were early in their careers, but you can see the potential. You get the good Nick Cage in this one. It is surprising that he has the less hammy role. Supposedly Modine read for Al, but was given the Birdy role by the director. It is intriguing to imagine how the film would be with the roles reversed. Modine is excellent in a physically demanding role. He does take on the mannerisms of a bird. Most importantly, you care about these two young men.


3 comments:

  1. I think it is a gem, a very special movie. Both actors are excellent.
    At least it stayed with me which is more than I can say about many other movies I watched last year. The story is unusual and all, music, pictures, acting, goes very well together.

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  2. Without giving it away, what did you think of the ending? I forgot to thank you for recommending it.

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  3. An all time classic. One of the most moving dipictions of male friendship ever caught on film.

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