Given that he consistently portrays an unhappy character in action films, it’s amazing that Liam Neeson makes so many of them.
When taking out bad guys, genre pioneers like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson would typically exude a sense of quiet satisfaction. Neeson, on the other hand, consistently exhibits emotional distress while honing the specific skills of his characters, as if to imply that someone has to do this kind of thing, even an Oscar-nominated actor who is adaptable enough to have played roles as dissimilar as Oskar Schindler, Rob Roy MacGregor, and Alfred Kinsey.
THE VERDICT IN SHORT : Average comfort food from an action film.
- Cast includes Aidan Quinn, Claire van der Boom, Yael Stone, Taylor John Smith, Liam Neeson, and Andrew Shaw.
- Mark Williams, director
- Mark Williams and Nick May wrote the script
- 1 hour 45 minutes in length, PG-13
- He also has a commendable work ethic. He consistently produces one or two of these genre movies each year, like a man trying to keep up with the clock. And considering that he is currently 69 years old (despite the fact that he unquestionably does not appear it), that may be exactly what he is doing.
Unfortunately, Neeson’s performance in Blacklight, his second film with director Mark Williams (after The Honest Thief), turns out to be one of his most unoriginal efforts. The movie is a by-the-numbers actioner without a strong premise or a compelling lead character that relies on its star’s soulful solemnity and low-key magnetism. Except for when Neeson’s character says, “In hindsight, I feel I made a horrible career choice,” it doesn’t have a single memorable scene piece or poignant line of speech.
Travis Block is the name of that character, which would have looked terrific on the covers of several mass-market paperbacks from the 1960s. Block, a clandestine operative who works on a contract basis for the FBI, is an expert at rescuing undercover agents who have put themselves in perilous circumstances. In the opening scene, he saves an agent who has broken her cover from an enraged mob of white supremacists who appear to be auditioning for January 6 to show off his skills.
What would a Neeson action movie be if he didn’t also have a family to protect? Block is, of course, also a loving father and grandfather. As evidenced by the intense training he gives his little granddaughter to spot potential threats and ways to flee, his professional habits frequently bleed into his home life. Additionally, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder, which helps him in his career but also causes oddities like a refrigerator full of hyper-orderly rows of fruit and beer bottles. Character development-wise, that’s about it.
The plot begins when an FBI agent (Taylor John Smith) tries to go public with information that the agency may have killed a young anti-government activist. In order to solve the mystery, Block teams up with an aspiring investigative journalist (Emmy Raver-Lampan, The Umbrella Academy). He also soon dies.
It turns out to be a covert, lethal government initiative called “Operation Unity,” created by Block’s close buddy and superior, FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). As a result of sharing a crucial encounter while fighting together in the Vietnam War, the two men have been close for decades.
As Block and Robinson become more and more at odds, especially after Block’s daughter and granddaughter mysteriously vanish, cue the expected vehicle chases, shootouts, and hand-to-hand battles. It’s a bad idea to mess with Liam Neeson’s descendants, as everyone who has watched the Taken films knows.
There aren’t many surprises in the movie, and it’s unlikely that anyone who doesn’t immediately realise that Quinn’s character is up to no good has ever heard of J. Edgar Hoover. Block is consistently able to drop by unannounced, at one point even banging on Robinson’s door, leading to the strange conclusion that Robinson is the least protected FBI director in history. Robinson does, though, at least show that he is aware of the media when he snarls, “These days, our country is run by ‘gotcha’ moments on Twitter.”
The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor come to mind when thinking of the 1970s conspiracy thrillers that Blacklight is reminiscent of, but it never quite reaches their level of tension or narrative drive. The major purpose of it is to pass the time till the next, better Liam Neeson action film appears.
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