Blacklight: Dim Bulb, by Chase Beck
The opening of Blacklight features a woman giving a rousing political speech on the US National Mall while standing in front of an American flag large enough to make George C. Scott’s Patton envious. Sofia Flores (actress Mel Jarnson) postures in front of that flag, both backdropped by the Washington Monument, and decries the treatment of the American working class by the political elite. It is entirely lacking in nuance and subtlety. Much like the rest of Blacklight, director Mark Williams guides the audience with an almost condescending hand, letting us know who the good guys and bad guys are almost before we even get a chance to meet them. Into the black and white world that Williams has crafted steps Travis Block (Liam Neeson), the only character the screenplay allows to have the remotest element of moral ambiguity. But do not worry. Williams shows us that Block has a cute granddaughter who loves him. This is screenwriter Nick May’s inarticulate way of letting the audience know that Block is an honest person who will make the right choice when the critical moment arises.
Neeson’s Block is an FBI fixer. His specialty is extracting Federal Agents from deep undercover assignments. His boss, Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn), even tells us that he is the best person there is at his job. What is the key to Block’s phenomenal abilities? He has acute paranoia fueled by his undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In reality, those who suffer from OCD often seek professional treatment that can involve medication and psychotherapy. But Block does not have any time for such frivolities. Besides, he harnesses his OCD to construct elaborate traps and distractions that aid him in the performance of his job. The only one who seems bothered by it is his daughter, Amanda (Claire van der Boom). Amanda treats his disorder like some kind of communicable disease, worried that he will pass it on to his all-too-cute granddaughter, Natalie (Gabriella Sengos).
Blacklight is notable as the first screenplay from former US Department of Justice Attorney Nick May. If May’s former vocation gave him any special insight into writing this story, I am afraid it got lost in translation. Blacklight, as presented, seems about as generic as they come. Also, I cannot forgive it for depicting OCD as a superpower, much like the 2016 Mark Williams-produced film The Accountant. I will forgive you if you fail to remember it: a film where Ben Affleck’s character harnesses his autism to not only make elaborate spreadsheets but also to kick ass.
Back to Blacklight. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Emmy Raver-Lampman playing investigative reporter Mira Jones. Raver-Lampman is doing her best with the material she is given but ultimately this is a Neeson vehicle, plain and simple. Still, I feel she has more to offer us than we are allowed to see here.
At only an hour and 44 minutes Blacklight should fly by but Neeson and Quinn engage in a few too many discussions on the topics of morality and ethics. They stand around discussing it in offices, discussing it in gardens, and discussing it while standing in front of cars. Neeson is still great at stalking the streets and looking pissed-off but I am worried his Taken (2008) schtick is wearing a little thin. I know it still works for him but I can see him graduating to roles where he spends a little less time running and a little more time pacing the bridges of naval ships, barking orders to nervous-looking subordinates, occasionally muttering incoherently into his coffee and growling derogatory epithets at some as yet undefined “enemy.” As for Blacklight, maybe check it out after you have exhausted the rest of Neeson’s film catalog.