Released in 1984 ▪ Review posted July 27, 2014
“Dear God, make me a bird so I could fly far, far, far away from here.”
Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)
It isn’t that Nicolas Cage did anything wrong in Birdy. He connects with his character, a Vietnam veteran named Al Columbato who’s helping his best friend Birdy (Matthew Modine), also a Vietnam vet, overcome severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Cage capably manages Al’s highs and lows. He’s appropriately focused on character development for a story that’s mostly told in flashbacks. Trying to wrest Birdy from catatonia, with his concern slowly becoming confusion and frustration as every attempt to save him fails, Cage gives a masterful performance.
Cage’s character has his own post-war demons to confront. His worrying about Birdy turns into a modest obsession, something for Al to fixate on so he can avoid having to think about his personal war memories. It’s an early example of Cage’s acting at its finest.
Unfortunately, this exceptional performance is part of something that is, perhaps, the most boring idea ever to be filmed. See—the character “Birdy” is obsessed with birds, which you might have guessed. As Al cares for Birdy, you see that Birdy’s post-war PTSD is taking the form of behaving as if he were a bird. In the frequent flashbacks that establish the depth and history of their friendship, you see a young Birdy, going around and doing things that someone obsessed with birds would do—looking birds in the eyes and squawking, sleeping nude in his walk-in canary cage, dressing up in an outfit made of pigeon feathers and jumping off of a structure. That’s pretty much the entire movie. For 120 minutes. Flashbacks of Modine obsessed with birds in the ’60s, and scenes in a military hospital in the ’70s where he thinks he’s a bird. For two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
I guess in the early ’80s, ’Nam-fueled PTSD was a hot, marketable topic. I don’t want to blame everything on 9/11, but I think some interest in the subject of PTSD was initially lost when attention shifted back towards glorifications of war. Cage himself was a willing participant in this process. Regardless, Birdy is boring, repetitive, and 40 minutes too long.
Maybe I’m burned out. Maybe my taste is bad. Roger Ebert seemed to love this movie, and it maintains an 88% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, I can’t conceive how this movie was enjoyable to anyone. The story is bizarre and the pacing is atrocious. An hour into it, I was horrified to discover there was an hour left.
The feeling of watching this movie was a lot like the feeling of watching Pink Floyd: The Wall—simultaneously dismayed at both the duration of the picture and my inability to look away from it. As it turns out, Alan Parker was the director of both films. Maybe he’s just not my style. He does pull good performances from emotionally overdriven actors. Still, the movies can be difficult to endure.
Birdy (the film, not the character) is based on a novel by William Wharton. It feels like a bad adaptation of what could possibly be an interesting book. According to Box Office Mojo, the total domestic gross was just $1.4 million. It seems the only people pleased by Birdy were the Polish filmgoing public. It won the first “Audience Award” at the Warsaw Film Festival.
So…there’s Birdy. It’s terrible. Don’t watch it.
- How was the movie?
- Unending, sedated nightmare
- How was Nic Cage’s acting?
- Did his performance make the movie worse?
- No, it was bad because of 9/11