Jazz has always needed its dark, Byronic martyrs: first the white cornetist, Bix Beiderbecke, wrapped in the comparative innocence of Jazz Age flappers and bootleg gin; then the black version, Charlie 'Bird' Parker, with racism, inter-racial marriage, mental breakdowns and drug addiction. This is the darkest of cinema's jazz myths, the tortured and misunderstood genius who must destroy himself in order to reinvent music.
Long an ardent jazz fan and pianist, director Clint Eastwood knows a lot more about Parker's story (or stories) as bent American dreams than he can get into a single film, so he and writer Joel Oliansky have crammed the film with passing images, clues, names, and most of all music, to make the film expand to fit the viewer's Bop database.
Eastwood takes the time to build scenes around the rhythm of his actors as well as the music; as Bird (shortened from 'Yardbird'), Forest Whitaker makes the most of his space in a complicated performance which is able, against all odds, to retain a strange innocence. Both the film's look (the period of the 1940s and 1950s) and its sound (painstakingly reworked original recordings) create a legendary night world for the birth of modern jazz and its great virtuoso.