March 4, 2022 Blacklight (Movie Review)
Who would have thought Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List 1993, Taken 2008) would take Bruce Willis’ place as the everyman action hero? The one with acting chops to go with the physical ones to elevate otherwise ho-hum Action flicks. Willis is now a few steps away from being in a DTV Jean-Claude Van Damme film, but Neeson can still bring it to the silver screen.
The latest entry in the Neeson Action ensemble (Nee-tion?) is Blacklight. Mark Williams (Arena 2011, The Accountant 2016) directed the picture, and came up with the story alongside Brandon Reavis and Nick May, who turned it into a screenplay. It reached US cinemas on February 11, 2022 via Briarcliff Entertainment.
In it, Travis Block (Neeson) is an unofficial ‘fixer’ for his old friend and FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn: Benny & Joon 1993, Practical Magic 1998). He is trying to balance his job and his OCD with being there for his daughter Amanda (Claire Van Der Boom: The Square 2008, Game of Silence 2016) and his granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos.)
Things take a turn when a prominent politician, Sofia Flores (Melanie Jarnson: Harrow 2019. Mortal Kombat 2021), is killed, and a fellow agent, Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith: Cruel Intentions 2016, Hunter Killer 2018), goes AWOL. Crane tries to inform a journalist, Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman: The Umbrella Academy series, Gatlopp 2022) about how Flores’ death connects to the FBI and a secret operation. Block tries to stop him, only to get stuck in a conspiracy bigger than himself.
First off, that is a very different story to the one the trailer suggested. It’s editing seemed like Block’s daughter was the victim of the FBI plot, and Block had to go on a rampage of revenge to save his granddaughter and get Robinson. But nope, the victim who gets the plot going is an Hispanic Socialist Democrat challenging the status quo through social media. Hmm. If only she were joined by an older man called Benny Saunders.
Just afterwards, Robinson explains his philosophy of how the ‘millennials’ need to be controlled through fear, and showing his disdain for Twitter and selfies, etc. Blacklights expose hidden details otherwise invisible to the naked eye, but this film is more like a floodlight in that it blasts its story beats everywhere in giant beams. Granted, the trailer already revealed Robinson as a baddie. It is just that he might as well have put on a top hat and tied Flores to some train tracks.
The direction is similarly obvious. Its shaky jumps, staccato edits, and Dutch angles may as well spell out the mood of the scene in big title cards (‘BLOCK IS GETTING WORRIED’, ‘THIS MAN IS ABOUT TO DIE’, etc). The lighting is nice and bold throughout, though again, it might be a little too bold with its ‘warm beige=safe’ tones and ‘dark and teal=dangerous’ coding.
They work out better than the editing. Usually it is workable, except for those action scenes. The fight scenes can be hard to follow because of that shakycam and jittery cuts. Smith and Neeson could be clobbering each other, or other people, and audiences could be left pining for the days they could clearly see a fist strike a person’s face.
As for the intrigue, it does not really captivate, since the answers to the mysteries are so obvious. Is the FBI, under the stewardship of a man who wants to control people through fear, controlling people through fear? If there were some wrinkles of doubt, Jones’ investigation could have been stronger. Instead, it comes off like a journalist trying to discover for sure if the world is round or the sky is blue.
At least the acting is all right for the most part. Neeson’s charm helps him come off as a nice, action granddad- kindly and badass. If this is him phoning it in, then it is still a few leagues ahead of many who try their best. Lampman is also quite nice too, making for a convincing, hard-nosed journalist. Quinn also brings the sleaze to his corrupt character, and tries to make the writing’s attempt to add dimensions to his character work with some traces of regret. Sadly they do not hit, yet that is not really Quinn’s fault.
Action films can survive iffy writing and weak characters if the action and pacing holds up. The fistfights do not work out. However, the pyrotechnics manage to excite (bar an obvious CGI boom at the beginning), and the slower, sneakier instances of gunplay are the strongest parts of the film. They show off Block’s OCD through his ingenuity- using the environment and layout of a building to his advantage.
Shame those sequences are few and far between. The film front-loads its big action set pieces, leaving little for the film’s final third. The audience is left expecting more as it builds up to its climax, only for the film to just stop. It leaves one wondering if they ran out of time or money, as it ties up its remaining threads in a disappointing and deflating way.
In summary, Blacklight is a blunt Action film with wonky camerawork, writing and pacing. There was some promise to its premise, except the screenplay did not have enough time in the oven. It is too serious to be a self-aware, winking affair, and too silly to pull in the Jason Bourne or Tom Clancy crowd. Neeson is there at least, and he has been in better action films too. As such, Cryptic Rock gives Blacklight 2 out of 5 stars.