"Birdy" gets my nod as one of the greatest and most compelling movies of all time in so many ways. While it is like many that focus on the effects of the war in Vietnam, this movie is the most unique story of friendship, the effects of military combat, and eccentricity like no other movie of the 1980s or ever for that matter.
Nicholas Cage and Matthew Modine star in "Birdy" as two lifelong friends from the run-down industrial ghettos of Philadelphia where they have played baseball together and 'Birdy' has had a huge passionate obsession with birds throughout his life and has dreamed of being able to fly like a bird. However, the two friends are recruited into the U.S. Army and are involved in the fighting in Vietnam and when they return, both are horribly scarred. One has suffered physical wounds with face wounds while the other has mental scars (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and being driven mad from the horrors of fighting in Vietnam, has almost withdrawn into his own 'birdland' and acting like a bird and not responding to outside social stimuli. As a result, Birdy has been hospitalized in a decrepit mental institution. Now Al Columbato must try to get his friend Birdy to be able to emerge from his catatonic state if he wants to leave the mental hospital and return to a normal life. During all of this, we can be able to see the flashbacks into Birdy and Al's past and see how 'bird boy's' obsession with birds grew increasingly strong and started to strain his social life with his friend and others around him but yet see very compelling acts of bonding between the two unlikely friends and how they've gone through so much together even before the war.
The characters are among the most compelling I've ever seen in a drama movie ever. This might be considered a 'coming of age' movie but it's so much more than just your average teen angst movie. "Birdy" delves into some of the strangest and most unique perspectives of obsessive people with their subjects of interests and the things that true friends go through in order to stay bonded forever. The photography is stunningly brilliant and stunning beautiful thanks to ironically, it's relatively primitive filming technology that was used in filming it. The grittiness of the movie while it may be a bit irritating, gives this movie a strangely opaque feel and some of the scenes which are throughout this film are absolutely moving and will tug at your heartstrings. All of the scenes of the birds flying into the air are perfectly filmed and enhance the movie's emotional quality even more. While this movie is very heavy in it's bittersweet plot, there are some really smart and honest comedic elements that are really funny without detracting anything from it's dramatic tone and the funnier parts make this movie ever more bittersweet. Sometimes I would go far enough to say that this almost has high amounts of both even though there is far, FAR more drama. "Birdy" is bizarre, psychotic, happy, sad, dark, bright, and a whole lot of other positive things.
Director Alan Parker creates one of the most compelling movies of all time. While nothing could ever go wrong with this movie, his directing made it so much more powerful, moving, funny in odd ways, and yet very vivid on such high levels unparalleled. This movie centers on some of the more unattractive areas of Philadelphia (At least at the time, I'm not sure about today) like industrial junkyards, landfills, and run down neighborhoods, but centering on one like these areas makes this movie so much more interesting and from my standpoint, aims to dispel the notion that all poor areas are necessarily dangerous and crime-ridden. While it was centered on Philadelphia, this movie reminds me of what many areas of Chicago looked like during my childhood memories: Weed-ridden, extremely gritty, seedy, and depressed (Many of them have seen serious gentrification in recent years), at least at the time.
Nicholas Cage and Matthew Modine in their earliest days of their acting careers are absolutely amazing as Al and 'birdy'. The interactions between the two characters in the movie are absolutely realistic and really bittersweet. While not throwing a beating by any means at his later movies, I personally think that Nicholas Cage's acting hasn't reached the early pinnacle as on "Birdy" but sometimes there's the saying that it's "Never as Good As The First Time" and it surely applies here. Matthew Modine is the most compelling lead in this movie as his portrayal of Birdy is incredible, vivid, and believable. By the way, he's the guy on the album cover of the soundtrack by Peter Gabriel which brings to mind the soundtrack.
The music along makes this movie really vividly bittersweet with really powerful background music that perfectly fits with the movie's really obscure tone with songs like "Under Lock and Key" and "Close Up" which is actually expanded from the 50 second version on the CD and includes the chord progression of it's parent track "Family Snapshot" and it's absolutely haunting and thought-provoking. Most of the songs on the soundtrack can be heard in the background if one listens carefully and it's absolutely haunting and makes the various scenes even more compelling. What's even more unique is how this movie doesn't seem to rely on generic orchestra background music for a change. The haunting music at the beginning has the haunting eerie song "Slow Water" mixed with the song "Quiet & Alone" and combining the two songs makes it so amazing like no other movie opening theme.
"Birdy" wasn't a massive hit in the USA due to it's unconventional nature and lack of a 'formulaic plot' especially when "Terminator" and "Temple of Doom" were riding high, but this has become one of my favorite movies of the decade. If you can find this movie on DVD, then you MUST buy this ASAP. It may be a bit slow paced at first but it allows a lot of character development and allows you to know them very well and "Birdy" will ultimately be one of the most rewarding movies you'll ever see. It is intense without being violent or bloody, or even immensely depressing.
This is quite simply the most brilliant and evocative masterpieces of the 1980s and one of histories lost treasures. I could go for a very long time with this review but since there is only a limited space for reviews on here, I have no choice but to end it here.