(Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage, John Harkins, Sandy Baron, Karen Young, et al / DVD / R / (1984) 2017 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: Academy AwardŽ-winner Nicolas Cage (Best Actor, 1995, 'Leaving Las Vegas') and Matthew Modine ('Full Metal Jacket') star in this riveting drama about two childhood friends and the physical and mental wounds they suffer in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
DVD Verdict: 'Birdy' is a difficult film to describe. It's about the developing friendship between Al (Nick Cage) and Birdy (Matthew Modine), but it's also about a descent into madness, and the lengths to which Al goes for his friend.
The film starts in the late 60's, in a US military mental hospital. Cage has been seriously wounded, and has had reconstructive surgery on his face, but he's been brought in because Birdy is here. He's uncommunicative and appears to recognize no one, spending all day squatting on the floor of his cell squinting up at the window.
The story is mostly told in flashbacks, either Al recounting incidents in their growing friendship as neighborhood kids or, later, Birdy remembering other incidents. From the start the two are pretty dissimilar - Al is athletic, outgoing and popular while Birdy is quiet and introverted - a typical nerd. The two are, paradoxically, brought together by Birdy's love of birds, and the stupid things they do - making suits out of pigeon feathers to befriend more pigeons, climbing on (and falling off) factories trying to capture more birds.
Al tries to set Birdy on a 'normal' track; they buy a wrecked car and fix it up, and head off to the beach. But Birdy is just too wrapped up in himself for this to work, and it's a wonder he doesn't alienate Al with his strange behavior.
In the present, the doctor is putting more pressure on Al to get Birdy to respond; if he doesn't, then Birdy will be written off and sent to a permanent mental institution. The flashbacks continue, and it becomes clear that Birdy's love of birds has turned into an obsession, and then into the darker realms beyond that.
The final few minutes of the film cover a lot of ground; Al finally realizes that Birdy is pretty well off the deep end; they both go off to fight in the war; Al gets his injury, while we see the incident that left Birdy in his present state. Meanwhile the doctor finally decides that time has run out, but Al decides he's not leaving.
The ending of the film is incredibly powerful, and it should be a criminal offense to give it away. Is it appropriate to the rest of the film? I honestly don't know, but I thought it was pretty damn good, nonetheless - and I hope you do too.
The film stands or falls on the performances of Cage and Modine - and, for me, it stands tall. Cage is excellent in his role, capturing the bravado of his character perfectly; but Modine is simply brilliant. During the flashbacks he portrays his nerdy character completely believably, but it's the way he handles the scenes in the asylum that amazed me. As soon as you know his obsession, it is crystal clear that he's not squatting in his cell, but perching, wishing to fly. Alan Parker has made some great films; surely this might just be his best. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.