“Hard to be Good at Something Nobody Wants”: ‘Birdy’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - August 06, 2016
“Hard to be Good at Something Nobody Wants”: ‘Birdy’ Review

Well, this month has not started off great. For our Nicholas Cage Retrospective, I watched the feature film Birdy. Now Cage has had a varied career, to say the least, with some entertaining flicks, but Birdy was not one of them. However, it wasn’t particularly bad either. Cage never uses a stupidly exaggerated voice; he never repeats the same line over and over again at the top of his lungs, he doesn’t recite the ABCs; the plot at least makes a modicum of sense, and no CGI fire looks like a kindergartner drew on the film. It’s just sort of a bland movie, and I’m having a difficult time coming up with things to say about it.

Birdy tells the story of two Vietnam veterans who have both been wounded and are being treated back in the states. Al Columbato, played by Cage himself, took an exploding mortar shell to the face and is buried under thick bandages. On the other hand, Birdy, played by Matthew Modine, was in a helicopter crash, and while lying on the ground, witnessed a flock of birds gets decimated by napalm. This pairing of traumas (he REALLY loves birds, like ‘have a wet dream about turning into a bird and mating with his pet canary’ loves birds) breaks him mentally, and he begins to act like a bird himself. The two are lifelong friends, so the mental hospital calls in Al to try and snap Birdy out of it. Al arrives and begins talking to the unresponsive Birdy about their life together, from their attempt to train carrier pigeons to their falling out after they;d graduated high school. However, as time goes on, their superiors at the army mental hospital become impatient with the lack of responses from Birdy and prepare to send Al back to his care facility. Al snaps and admits to Birdy that he has his psychological traumas he’s trying to deal with and begins to weep, giving what passes for an impassioned speech about how Vietnam used up their lives and threw them away. Al’s crying finally breaks Birdy out of it and the pair attempt to escape the loony bin. Halfway through this escape, the movie cuts to black and the credits roll.

There wasn’t much of anything special about the film’s visuals or sounds. There’s one impressive shot from the perspective of a bird flying through the neighborhood in which Birdy lives. There are a few instances in which Birdy sees a flock of birds in his head, informing the viewer of how much he thinks about the creatures. The soundtrack, composed by Peter Gabriel, is so blandly 80’s drama audio that it’s almost difficult to notice, except of course for when it breaks into choruses of “La Bamba.”

When all is said and done, Birdy ranks somewhere in the middle of the road in almost every respect. There’s a hint of purpose and commentary but it never fully commits. There’s evidence of the beginnings of tension between the main characters and the authority figures, but it seems forced. The movie toys with using visuals to depict the traumatized mind, but it plays it too safe to adequately explore the potential unique styles. Even the characters themselves are almost interesting but fall short thanks to the often clunky dialogue. You can probably skip this movie and not worry about what you’re missing.

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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