Blacklight, the latest film where Liam Neeson plays an aging badass, hits theaters this week. While it’s better than expected, it’s not exactly “must see.”
For the past several years, Liam Neeson has made a surprising career turn as an again action hero. Hell, Taken essentially set the standard and started a trend in story telling about older protagonists whipping insane amounts of ass. For the most part, Neeson’s films have retained a level of fun, schlock, while never quite bringing the same magic that made Taken work so well.
Directed By: Mark Williams
Written By: Nick May, Mark Williams
Starring: Liam Neeson, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, Aidan Quinn
Release Date: February 11, 2022
The biggest problem with the last few films in this “genre”, is Neeson’s age has definitely been showing for a while in terms of the action. It’s just not as believable as it once was. When the first trailer for Blacklight hit, it looked like more of the same, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case. Instead, it veers more towards a spy/espionage flick than an outright action movie. It’s still not “great” but definitely put in more effort than others.
Blacklight puts the focus on Travis Block (Neeson) a Vietnam Vet who’s been working as an off-the-books fixer for the FBI over the last couple decades. His role is to assist undercover agents and pretty much clean up messes left behind from ops gone wrong. 20-ish years of doing so, however, have certainly taken its toll, leaving him a paranoid man struggling to connect with his daughter and granddaughter.
He’s older and wants to spend more time with his family, going back to something of a normal life after all his work. As he makes preparations to retire, however, one final assignment threatens to upend his life and the things he once believed in.
He’s tasked with the extraction of a deep-cover agent Dusty (Taylor John Smith), who’s had a question of conscience and going rogue. Dusty is looking to speak with a reporter, spilling some secrets the FBI obviously doesn’t want out there.
As Block works to bring Dusty in, he learns his boss is potentially using his power to take down innocent civilians. Knowing his own hands aren’t clean, Block turns to journalist Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to help him break the story wide open. The goal is to both give him the chance to fully retire out from under his employer’s thumb, while giving himself a bit of absolution in the process.
Not as Advertised
I don’t want to be getting into any spoilers here, but that’s the basics of the story. Block must find a way to survive, keep his family safe, and do the right thing. All he’s gotta do is go up against the head of the FBI. Easy, right?
Here’s the thing, the movie plays out much more like a spy thriller than anything else. There are moments of doubt as you can’t be quite sure who’s on the right side of things, infiltration to gather evidence, and even some double-crossing action to go with it. It’s fairly light on those elements and doesn’t feature any major revelations you won’t see coming. Still, it’s a marked difference from how the trailers made the movie out to be.
Instead, the marketing paints this as another Neeson action flick where he’s tasked with finding/saving his family. Hell, that aspect of the story doesn’t even come into play until the final act and isn’t even something he directly deals with. Instead, the focus is on him uncovering the various lies he’s been told and finding the truth behind this government conspiracy.
I was much more invested in this approach to the story than I thought I would be. I liked seeing Neeson as the conflicted operative, rather than the outright ass-kicker. In fact, the film does a solid job showing him as older and gears the story towards that. He still has moments where his skills can shine, but it’s clear he’s not the brawler, and has to use his wits/experience to win through the encounters. The result is the film doesn’t try to force Neesom to look more action ready than he actually is. No quick cuts to hide the lack of finesse, etc.
Third Act Stumbles
By and large, I enjoyed my time with Blacklight, certainly more than expected. Unfortunately, the final act feels…weird. The story makes some odd choices to wrap things up, especially considering the earlier scenes that set the stage for not knowing who to trust, and conspiracies within conspiracies. Ultimately, things got tidied up with a nice little bow. Hell, the major action sequence that WOULD have ended just about any other movie, came about 20 minutes before the credits rolled.
Instead, we end with an “action” sequence between two old men, with nothing but a promise one of them will do the right thing. Yeah, just kinda strange. The film isn’t interested in diving deeper into the espionage elements and instead tried to straddle the line between action and spy thriller. The result is unsatisfactory, despite some of the really solid setup the first two-thirds of the movie delivers.