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  Birdy I Am A Bird Now
Year: 1984
Director: Alan Parker
Stars: Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage, John Harkins, Sandy Baron, Karen Young, Bruno Kirby, Nancy Fish, George Buck, Dolores Sage, Pat Ryan, James Santini, Maud Winchester, Marshall Bell, Elizabeth Whitcraft, Sandra Beall, Victoria Nekko
Genre: Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Vietnam war veteran Sergeant Al Columbato (Nicolas Cage) has been injured in combat, and now his head is swathed in bandages as he heals. He has been temporarily discharged from hospital, although he has to return next week to have his dressings removed to see how he is doing, but he has more pressing matters to concern him. Specifically his old school friend Birdy (Matthew Modine), so-called because of his lifelong obsession with birds, who is currently residing in an army mental asylum, refusing to speak and acting, well, like one of his feathered friends. Can Al bring him out of it?

Birdy is a strange little character study that for most of its length does not appear to be going anywhere in particular, and even when the end is in sight it looks to be going for the obvious. In a way it does, but damn if it doesn't grow on you the further it progresses, although that progression is extremely well hidden. It was adapted from the novel about World War II veterans (updated here for the film version) by William Wharton, although its anti-war message is, like its forward motion, very well concealed. Don't be fooled though, this has something to say.

Much of the film is taken up either with flashbacks to Al and Birdy (we never find out his real name, not even his surname) in their teenage years, or alternatively the lives they are leading now they have returned from the conflict which essentially take the form of having a close eye kept on them by the military authorities as they struggle to adapt to life after their war experiences. Cage is sincere dimwit mode here, a nice guy who is having trouble understanding what has happened to him and how he can get his friend to waken from his trancelike state.

He does, however, recognise that Birdy is losing himself in a birdlike demeanour, not by doing impressions of chickens or anything like that but by acting like a caged canary, gazing yearningly at the sky through his cell window and squatting like a pigeon on the floor. Birdy was so attached to our feathered friends that he wanted to actually be one, and after roping new pal Al into his pigeon-catching ways they begin an unusual but close relationship, not homosexual, but protective and oddly unable to acknowledge just how deep their bond goes, simply accepting it without question.

These flashbacks are little vignettes of eccentricity, apparently not adding up to anything but filling in the story that has brought them together. So we see Al and Birdy going on a date with two girls they have picked up at the beach, only for Birdy to be too weird for his temporary partner and scaring her away, or the time when they got jobs helping the dog catcher until they realised the mutts they did catch were headed straight for the dog food factory, and so forth, all well handled by director Alan Parker but you cannot help wondering yes, but where is the point? That is until you come to notice that the film is showing how a war like the one in Vietnam can ruin the dreams of a generation, whether it's Birdy's harmless infatuation with canaries, or on a wider scale, and it is their superiors who have forced them into harrowing situations that should have been entirely avoidable. The ending is well worth waiting for, a quirkily brave, tragic-turning-comic finale that makes Birdy hard to dismiss. Music by Peter Gabriel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Alan Parker  (1944 - 2020)

Stylish British director, from advertising, with quite a few musicals to his credit: Bugsy Malone, Fame, Pink Floyd The Wall, The Commitments (possibly his best film) and Evita. Elsewhere he has opted for serious-minded works like Midnight Express, Shoot the Moon, Birdy, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning and The Life of David Gale. The Road to Wellville was a strange attempt at outright comedy.

 
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