By Sebastian Purcell
Blacklight, written and directed by Mark Williams and stars Liam Neeson as off the books FBI agent Travis Block. If you’re a fan of the Taken film franchise then this will be familiar ground as it draws on a familiar trope: the desire for grandparents to protect grandchildren at all costs.
Travis Block (Neeson) is tasked with pulling undercover agents out of dangerous situations. His latest task is complicated by the emergence of a dangerous conspiracy within the FBI that puts himself, his colleagues, and his family in danger unless he can work with reporter Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to uncover the truth.
Equality activist Sofia Florez (Melanie Jarnsen) opens the film hosting a rally in front of the Washington Monument in Washing DC. But these themes do not carry through the film as writer/director Williams oddly puts these issues aside, opting for the broader appeal of high powered action instead. Although Aidan Quin plays shady FBI Director Bill Robinson who hides behind questionable agents to do his dirty work. I didn’t find his motivations to be well explored and the storyline and performance is not convincing or menacing enough to be really impactful.
Blacklight creates elaborate shoot-outs with FBI agents who are comically worse shots than storm troopers; Neeson, who perhaps looks a little beyond his action hero prime, holds them off with relative ease. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson produces slick visuals with car chases with the use of an innovative re-enforced garbage truck as Block tries to track down Agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) who is at risk of exposing his latest deep undercover mission.
There were a few things that I struggled with while watching the film. Audiences in Melbourne might share my amusement and also struggle to suspend their disbelief as notable landmarks, such as the Melbourne Convention Centre and Victorian Premier’s Office are rebranded as the Modern History Museum and the FBI headquarters respectively. I was disappointed that the film seemed to confuse OCD and paranoia, considering them as interchangeable. Block’s outward ticks are presented in doing things in threes, as a way of calming his thoughts and ever-present paranoia from years cleaning up for the FBI. His paranoid activities include gifting his granddaughter a taser for her birthday and installing cameras outside his daughter’s home without her permission. However, interesting visuals-cues of Block cleaning dust off photo frames and leaves from a bonsai tree are used to remind us of how ingrained Block’s training as FBI clean-up guy is, and this perhaps redeems some aspect of this part of the storyline.
Regrettably I found Blacklight to be predictable in its familiar formulaic approach to an action film. While it provides some action sequences and shoot-outs, including blowing up caravans and black SUVs, and despite the lengthy expositions from Neeson, there is little substance. This unfortunately makes the pacing of the film seem much longer than the now-modest 108-minute run time. I think Blacklight is unlikely to offend or excite anyone, but is perfect weekend viewing for those wanting to see Melbourne on the big screen and for anyone who is a fan of Neeson’s work.
Blacklight is in cinemas February 11.