Films

Blacklight

Written by Omair Alavi

Synopsis

Liam Neeson might have graduated to grandfather roles, but ‘they’ still need more men to tackle him!

Karachi: He may have grown older, but Liam Neeson still gets the job done. What if he is a grandfather in this low-budget Taken wannabe where he plays an off-the-books freelance FBI fixer who does his boss’s dirty work, he still doesn’t miss when someone threatens his family. Just like his last few flicks Honest Thief, The Marksman, and The Ice Road, in Blacklight he plays an everyday man who loves his family, comes with a particular set of skills, and will kill you, if you mess with his family. Simple!

Directed by Ozark co-creator Mark Williams, Blacklight begins as a political thriller, turns into a ‘Don’t mess with me’ alley in the second act, and ends with Liam Neeson’s character rescuing his family – daughter Amanda (Claire Van Der Boom), and granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos) – from the bad guys. It could have been more into the league of State of Play or some other political thriller featuring an investigative journalist, but it instead comes out as a Liam Neeson thriller, where there fewer the men, the better the result.

The film revolves around the murder of a liberal politician Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson) who presumably dies in a hit-and-run after delivering an anti-state speech. When her boyfriend Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) who is an undercover FBI agent decides to turn whistleblower, Liam Neeson’s Travis Block tries to reason with him, only to see him gunned down in front of him. That’s when the FBI Fixer realizes that he might be on the wrong side of the law, and decides to end his arrangement with his boss Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn), who makes the ultimate mistake – threatens his family!

From there onwards, Travis Block decides to do things his way and makes it his mission to exonerate his ex-colleague Dusty Crane with the help of an investigative journalist Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman). Needless to say, he manages to rescue his family, and save the day but not like the Liam Neeson we know. Here, the end comes without a quarter of the bloodshed the audience is used to in a Liam Neeson flick, while he also killed a smaller number of men than his previous flicks. At 69, Liam Neeson is slowing down and if he doesn’t quit in time, he might be laughed at just like Charles Bronson was laughed at after he did the Death Wish sequels.

Unlike Taken, where Liam Neeson’s character did everything according to his training, where the bad guys were really bad, and where tension kept rising with every passing minute, Blacklight is more like a TV drama. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Blacklight is nothing like Taken where a fitter, fiercer, and more ruthless Liam Neeson saved the day; here he is seen as an old paranoid man who takes it slow, which is as good as being dead in the line of business he is in. It takes a lot of time to ‘tick’ Neeson’s Block, and the way he gets his family back is more simple than brutal.

How he would have reacted had his character not been suffering from OCD, doesn’t seem to matter for the writers, for he would have done more or less the same thing. It seems his character was OCD when he wanted it, and not OCD when he didn’t want it, making it a funny quirk than a characteristic. The absence of security at the FBI director’s house, the simple robbery at such a high-profile person’s house, and how the horrific details of the crimes against US citizens were released to the public, was executed badly.

To watch Liam Neeson fight four men in a closed space is an insult to the veteran actor who could still take down fifty, given a good director. And if his family was being taken care of by the man, he believed to be the antagonist, then either that man wasn’t that bad, or Liam Neeson’s character was paranoid. Ever seen someone take care of the kidnapped people, who are held as leverage? Nope, neither have I.

No other character had more scenes than veteran Aidan Quinn who finally had a substantial role for a change. But then, he wasn’t playing a character; he was seemingly playing the reincarnation of J Edgar Hoover who used the FBI as his own personal killing machine. The deadly combination of Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn would have been a hit in the Bullitt days but sadly that film came out more than fifty years back.

Yes, the chase sequences were well executed but they had nothing special; and if you watch the scene before the chase began, you would wish you hadn’t seen it for it’s so ‘childishly’ executed. With the standards of action flicks rising every passing day in this digital age, making a 70’s kind of film wouldn’t help a nearly 70-year-old Liam Neeson at all. He should either follow the Samuel L Jackson trajectory and work with a younger actor to lift his profile or do something unlike Liam Neeson to surprise all.

There was a fight scene in the movie where a younger Taylor John Smith mocks Liam Neeson’s character by saying ‘You’re slipping, losing your grip’, when in fact the audience must be telling that to the veteran actor. His shelf life as an action hero might be ending, and it would be better if he goes his way, instead of being booed away after another Taken-inspired venture. He shouldn’t prolong his seemingly endless run as an action hero and must try something different, otherwise, he will tarnish his own reputation as a diverse actor who was once nominated for an Oscar!

About the author

Omair Alavi