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Alan Parker's unusual 1984 film about a catatonic Vietnam soldier contains many stirring passages but never quite reaches the heights it sets for itself. "Birdy" (Matthew Modine) is an Army mental hospital patient in a catatonia so extreme that his doctors can do little for him and thus summon his boyhood friend Al Columbato (Nicolas Cage), an infantry soldier who also has been wounded, in an attempt to break through Birdy's withdrawal. Throughout the many days spent in the hospital between the two young men, the story flashes back to the two boys growing up on the streets of working-class Philadelphia, where they formed an unlikely friendship (neighborhood roughneck Al, and quiet, introverted Birdy), and these sequences are where Birdy is at its best and most engrossing. The several small vignettes — all of which illustrate Birdy's rejection of conventional society and his fascination with the freedom of birds — are alternately funny, surprising, and profoundly sad, reminiscent (in structure at least) of a collection of Hemingway short stories. Modine, a good actor, albeit with limited range, skillfully inhabits the trapped yet optimistic Birdy and sympathetically conveys his absurd dreams of flight. However, the present-day sequences in the hospital are decidedly weaker, in part because Modine simply doesn't make any contribution to them (he crouches, turns his head from side to side, and stares out a window), leaving us with Cage's impetuous soldier and an Army doctor (John Harkins), who fight and bicker when Cage isn't shouting at and bullying the mute Modine. Cage, in one of his first film roles, tries to be dramatic but is just whiny and impulsive (a few years before his whiny and impulsive performance in Raising Arizona launched his career into orbit — perhaps the Coen Brothers saw something here that others didn't). Parker's direction is uniformly excellent, with the washed-out colors and aggressive use of light that have become his trademark over the years. However, as with most of Parker's films, Birdy shows that he's a far better cinematographer than a script doctor. Also starring Bruno Kirby. Score by Peter Gabriel. Solid transfer, Dolby Surround 2.0, trailer gallery of Nicolas Cage and Alan Parker films, textual supplements.

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