Blacklight: A Very Repetitive Set of Skills

Liam Neeson has been here before. In a painful and internal moment for his character, he relitigates that awful story he told to The Independent. Without the morally objectionable profiling, of course, but the main parts are there. In a moment of rage, seeing rage, and ready to find redemption anyway, Liam Neeson scoured the streets looking for someone to enact vengeance upon. It’s such a peculiar moment, unearned by the rest of the film, but feels like one of only a couple times that the actor is being honest.

The other way he’s being honest is in the stagnation of his grief. Like an act of Catholic Guilt, he plays out the same scenarios over and over. What worked in Taken (2008) basically still works about Liam Neeson. The bouncy lyricism of his Irish lilt. The hard-earned gravitas and ability to direct the audience with his words. If these performances were once purpose-driven, they now softly resemble one another. It’s Liam Neeson doing an impression of Liam Neeson. He is the only acceptable person to be doing the impression. But it works, because it always has, and that’s why he leads movies.

The idea that the lead actor does what’s quintessential about them should not be any surprise. Liam Neeson is Liam Neeson. Dads the world over can take a deep sigh of relief. He’s not going to change on us. He’ll always be who we want to be in the movies. Always the great protector of the family. The hero with a burning cause. That’s basically how all these work, as these movies carve out a template and genre unto themselves.

But they have devolved in spectacle. The directors get progressively worse. The supporting cast realizes they’re just in a Liam Neeson movie and don’t even dare trying to act. There’s nothing profound to dig into with the material here. It’s the same as all the other movies but a worse version that just follows the notes. This diluting of the brand ultimately results in movies that are hard to care very much about and even harder to write about.

Because, dear fellow Dads, you’re going to see this movie because that’s your destiny, or you’re not. You don’t need to be sold anymore on Liam Neeson, right? You probably know how to feel about him and his movies. Did you watch all the Taken movies? And 2019’s Cold Pursuit? Of course. Then you’ll watch Blacklight or you’re done or you were never going to watch them.

Blacklight begins with the shallowest representation of modern politics on this side of Redbox. It’s a confusing mess, politically, presenting all these ideas at the start and not following any of them up. People are rallying, a politician gives a speech and is hit by a car. End of political discourse! That is how you make a modern movie relevant, right? It doesn’t matter, Liam Neeson is here to enact revenge, or perhaps this time, to hold back from enacting some kind of revenge, and prove to his character’s family that he’s really all right and reliable and won’t bring them into danger.

The film wants to push Neeson’s character, the amusingly named Travis Block (could be the name for any of his characters). There are other “characters” like his daughter and granddaughter and the gal who gets run over and the guy he spends the film chasing. They’re not really characters but flat archetypes that allow Neeson to emote and do the thing he always does.

Now the films are being clearly written for him. Or he is only taking projects that suit his very particular set of skills. But the movies are getting worse. Blacklight tries to scramble the image occasionally. It thinks that is a clever technique. That tells us how traumatized the character is. How he is always working to outrun a past that keeps chasing him. But he runs from his demons in a circular pattern. Same set of skills, same movie, no difference. The same thing but a little worse and weary from overuse.

It’s a conundrum with a good actor who gets stuck in a rut. They are very good at this one thing but they are not developing them through repetition. The image blurs and fades instead. It feels like a straight-to-video movie that might play in theaters anyway. The shooting is so televisual and without any formal substance or framing that there is just not very much to hold on to. Same set of skills, different day.


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