Directed by Mark Williams | Written by Williams, Nick May, and Brandon Reavis | 108 min | ▲△△△△
Liam Neeson, so good in period epics like Silence and dramas like Ordinary Love, is best known these days for those interchangeable action pictures with titles like The Commuter, Cold Pursuit, and The Marksman. There’s a precedence for the middle-aged hard man in Hollywood going back to Robert Mitchum and Chuck Bronson, and largely thanks to Neeson the genre is back with a vengeance. (See John Wick and Nobody for some decent examples.)
This unexpected ride started in 2008 with the wild success of Taken, and then its sequels. I’ve enjoyed a few of Neeson’s genre pictures, including A Walk Among The Tombstones and Run All Night, but it’s been awhile since I’ve gone out of my way to see one. I can’t imagine they’ve all been as bad as Blacklight or who would keep going to them?
But this movie is almost entirely misguided. Let me count the ways.
- It’s from first-time director Williams, who comes from producing. I challenge you to show me a talented filmmaker who got his break by signing the cheques.
- It’s a Chinese, Australian and American co-pro, with Melbourne and Canberra standing in for Washington DC. Nothing about those Aussie cities looks anything like DC, which is a constant distraction.
- The script is laughably bad. Actors have to deliver lines like: “Secrets this big can’t hide forever!” and “The American people need to know the truth!”
- Neeson plays a longtime FBI fixer, Travis Block, who owes a lot to his boss, Robinson, played by Aiden Quinn, who’s a better actor than this material demands. Block wants to spend more time with his granddaughter, but his job keeps getting in the way. He’s been tasked to bring in a younger agent but discovers the agent knows secrets about Robinson that prove he’s dirty, complicating Block’s past and his future. On paper this scenario suggests the possibility of a complex tale of guilt, loyalty, and professional responsibility. None of that potential is achieved. Not even close.
- Blacklight has some of the cheesiest editing and camera moves I’ve ever seen in a thriller, from a weird, repeated push-in effect to a JJ Abrams-level affection for lens flares. Some of the exteriors look pleasant, but I attribute that more to the Australian sunlight and architecture than any genuine style in the cinematography.
- Nobody making Blacklight has ever seen a fight scene in a movie or they would never shoot and edit one like they’re all shot and edited in this movie.
- An actor named Emmy Raver-Lampman (who you may know from the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy) plays a journalist who uncovers Block’s story of corruption, and she’s actually pretty good in this even though the movie doesn’t have a clue how newsrooms look or operate. I have nothing but pity for her given the movie she’s in.
Neeson, who is approaching 70, claimed recently he’d soon be giving up the actioners. This is something he’s said before but I really hope, for all our sakes, he means it this time.