In taking on a biopic of late jazz great Charlie Parker, Clint Eastwood has had to chart bold new territory for himself as a director, and he has pulled it off in most impressive fashion.
Sensitively acted, beautifully planned visually and dynamite musically, this is a dramatic telling of the troubled life of a revolutionary artist.
That Parker (Forest Whitaker), who died in 1955 at 34, was the greatest sax man of them all is virtually undisputed, but he also lived a messy, complicated life, mixing drug addiction and a multitude of women with an ongoing attempt at a home life with his wife Chan (Diane Venora) and their two children.
Joel Oliansky’s big-framed script, originally written for Richard Pryor at Columbia some years earlier jumps around considerably at the beginning, skipping strikingly from Parker’s Childhood to a suicide attempt in 1954, then to some other key incidents.
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Naturally, the prolific artist’s music provides the continuing thread for the film, and jazzman Lennie Niehaus does a sensational job in blending Bird’s actual sax solos with fresh backups by contemporary musicians.
Whitaker makes an imposing, likable, very hip genius, with an especially memorable death scene. Venora is so riveting that her occasional long absences from the story are sorely missed. The one person who could really understand Bird is presented as a feisty woman of great character, awareness and strength.
1988: Best Sound