“Blacklight” is suspenseful political thriller that is marred by a weak script. The uniformly excellent acting and intense car chases are counterbalanced by the often-times implausible plot. The net result is an average film.
The beginning of the movie has two set pieces. In the first, activist Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson) is making an impassioned speech for her liberal agenda in front of supporters on the National Mall. Later, she is getting out of a rideshare when she is run over and killed by another vehicle. The rideshare driver clearly was part of this set-up.
In the other sequence, Travis Block (Liam Neeson) is driving along at 90-plus miles an hour. He arrives at a trailer park where a gang of armed citizens are confronting two sheriff’s deputies at one of the trailers. They want to do who-knows-what to a woman who has been outed as a government agent.
Travis is a “fixer” who reports directly to Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn), the head of the FBI. He has come to rescue the wayward agent. He rigs up some MacGyver-style explosive distractions and rescues his charge from the threatening mob.
Travis and Gabriel were together in Vietnam in 1975. As the United States prepared to evacuate Saigon, the two men encounter a man assaulting a woman. When the man turns to them, Travis, seeing what he thinks is a gun, shoots and kills him. The “weapon” was a liquor bottle and the victim is their own commander. While Travis is freaked out, Gabriel tells him to forget it and this becomes a secret between them.
Travis led an aimless life for 15 years after returning to the States, until Gabriel recruited him for the FBI. Since Travis is not officially on the books, he gives the FBI director plausible deniability for anything he does. While Travis is a fixer, he has never murdered anyone, he later confides to a reporter.
A side story concerns his grown daughter and young granddaughter. When he is attending Natalie’s (Gabriella Sengos) birthday party, he counts all of the exits as part of his need to protect his family.
This over-attentiveness is partially due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He is very precise in organizing his living space. When he gets repetitive thoughts (shown by a shaking, blurry screen), he does something three times to snap out of it.
Amanda (Claire van der Boom), Travis’s daughter, is concerned because her daughter is imitating the paranoid security aspects of her grandfather. Travis wants to spend more time with Natalie. But his unreliability in showing up due to the unpredictability of when he will be needed for his job gives Amanda pause. She also thinks that her father’s mental state is precarious and advises him to seek help.
After Flores is murdered, we see Special Agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) in plainclothes sitting in his car with medication, alcohol and a gun. When confronted by the police, he beats up a slew of them until one finally pulls a gun on him.
In the jail, where Travis has been dispatched to bail him out, Dusty intimates that all is not right at the FBI. He plans on meeting Mira (Emmy Raver-Lampman), a reporter for the News Cycle, and spill the beans. Complications ensue.
I often wonder if there is a cottage industry that writes action/thriller films for Liam Neeson. In this one, his character Travis Block has some of the tropes of his “Taken” persona, but also shows vulnerability.
There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the manifestation of his OCD, other than when the script required it. Amanda’s concern for his mental state makes it unclear if she believes that his untreated OCD is leading to his deterioration or if she thinks that something more is happening to cause his hyper-security nature.
There are many problems with the script that weaken the picture. In one scene, Travis, while driving the bailed-out Dusty to an FBI retreat of some kind, remembers that he needs to pick up Natalie. She is alone at her school when he arrives. In this day and age, I found this totally unbelievable.
The FBI director at one point states that he is the head of the most powerful organization in the world. I couldn’t tell if he was simply deluded or if the scriptwriter thought that this is the truth. I doubt that the FBI has the ranking Gabriel Robinson thinks that it does.
Travis seems like a smart man, but somehow does not fully understand the implications of being off-the-books for his employer. Why does he not realize that Gabriel would keep incriminating evidence against him should he go rogue or try to leave? Did he really think that he could just leave anytime he wanted?
When Travis finally has a falling-out with the FBI, there are several opportunities where he could have just been shot and the FBI’s problem with him solved. The ruthlessness of this agency in other scenes makes their coddling of Travis and the snoopy reporter seem unbelievable.
In one scene, Dusty fights off two cops only to have others arrive immediately as if they are just standing around. But when he wipes out city streets with his hijacked garbage truck, nary a police vehicle is to be seen.
There is an indication that Travis’s wife left because he was never around due to his job. How inept are FBI agents that Travis is constantly rescuing them?
The film does not provide enough backstory to the family situation of Travis. I found this subplot to actually be a distraction to the main storyline.
Since I cannot give out spoilers, let me just say that the ending of the movie seems very Pollyanna. I did not believe this outcome would result from what we had seen.
On the plus side, Canberra, Australia does a nice job subbing for Washington. The cinematography is a plus, especially in the car chases and firefight scenes. These sequences were well-staged. The MacGyver twists in these sequences should have indicated that more of this type of footage would be welcome.
So this picture is a mixed bag. I could not completely buy into it.
Two and a half out of five stars
Trust, identity, and the danger of unchecked power push a covert operative to the edge in director Mark Williams’ intense action thriller Blacklight. Travis Block (Neeson) lives and fights in the shadows. A freelance government “fixer,” Block is a dangerous man whose assignments have included extracting agents out of deep-cover situations. When Block discovers a shadowy program called Operation Unity is striking down ordinary citizens for reasons known only to Block’s boss, FBI chief Robinson (Quinn), he enlists the help of a journalist (Raver-Lampman), but his past and present collide when his daughter and granddaughter are threatened. Now Block needs to rescue the people he loves and expose the truth for a shot at redemption. Nothing and no one is safe when secrets are hidden in Blacklight.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Emy Raver-Lapman
Directed By: Mark Williams
Written By: Nick May and Mark Williams
I often wonder if there is a cottage industry that writes action/thriller films for Liam Neeson. In this one, his character Travis Block has some of the tropes of his “Taken” persona, but also shows vulnerability. Since I cannot give out spoilers, let me just say that the ending of the movie seems very Pollyanna. I did not believe this outcome would result from what we had seen.
So this picture is a mixed bag. I could not completely buy into it.