Bird is less moving as a character study than it is as a tribute and as a labor of love. The portrait it offers, though hazy at times, is one Charlie Parker's admirers will recognize.
Whitaker sweats, vomits, blows and wails as the Bird (so named for hanging around jazz clubs like a yardbird), laying in some minor-key grace to Parker's self-destruction along the way. But he never lets you into his darkest fears.
Even though, thematically, the movie won't come clear, Eastwood has succeeded so thoroughly in communicating his love of his subject, and there's such vitality in the performances, that we walk out elated, juiced on the actors and the music.
Whitaker occupies this world as a large, friendly, sometimes taciturn man who tries to harm nobody and who cannot understand why the world would not let him play his music. Neither can we.
Reduced to the bare bones of people and plot, the film winds up dancing around the edges of questions it doesn't answer -- straight-ahead rhythm coupled with straight-ahead melody, and not quite enough depth to either one.