Directed by Mark Williams.
Starring Liam Neeson, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, Aidan Quinn, Tim Draxl, Claire van der Boom, Yael Stone, Andrew Shaw, Zac Lemons, Gabriella Sengos, Georgia Flood, Caroline Brazier, and Mel Jarnson.
Travis Block is a government operative coming to terms with his shadowy past. When he discovers a plot targeting U.S. citizens, Block finds himself in the crosshairs of the FBI director he once helped protect.
Not only is director Mark Williams attempting to make a career out of helming late-career Liam Neeson action thrillers (starting with 2020’s Honest Thief, while also serving as a producer on many that came before), he’s also trying to do so by painting moral shades of gray on his protagonists. It’s right there in the title of their first director/star collaboration (an entirely forgettable experience), but for Blacklight, the duo seems prepared to double down on such character flaws. And intriguingly so, as during a chunk of the first act, there is a bait and switch sense that Liam Neeson is a straight-up antagonist while the real hero will be a whistleblower trying to spill the beans on FBI director Gabriel Robinson’s (Aidan Quinn) secret operation which consists of murdering various public figures to maintain political power under a façade of democracy.
To clarify, Liam Neeson’s Travis Block is unaware of Gabriel’s harsher crimes. However, he works as an off-the-books fixer (extortion, blackmail, and more but never murder) for covert agents that either become mentally undone or stray away from his plan. Travis is indifferent to whatever these moral implications are, only concerned with making a living in the wake of a tragic, dark past (because what is a Liam Neeson character without one these days) and spending time with his granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos) whenever his daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom) allows, which is not much considering the nature of their fractured relationship and Travis ‘paranoia of danger and being watched. The latter is something that drove his wife away from both of their lives and something that he habitually passes on to Natalie through highly questionable actions (whether it be teaching her how to count the number of exits in every environment, encouraging gun usage, or purchasing her a taser for her birthday).
The good news (for the sake of Natalie’s psychological well-being, although it may already be too late) is that Travis is so inundated with work that he rarely has time to see his granddaughter, sometimes forgetting about commitments (you know, the usual clichés). Sometimes, he juggles both responsibilities, such as fixing undercover agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith, the far more interesting one here), who winds up handcuffed inside his car while picking up Natalie from school. Unsurprisingly, Dusty escapes, and as it turns out, might be trying to do the right thing by getting the attention of a journalist.
Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has a gut feeling that Dusty should be trusted and heard out, which conflicts with Travis’ job and, of course, the entire house of cards Gabriel has built. The story also mixes up an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-type politician murdered in a hit-and-run during the film’s prologue. Rather than use any of this to push into how this government manipulates fear into the eyes of anyone advocating for justice, it’s dropped chiefly until it’s time for a convenient plot reveal. It’s all window-dressing for the usual standard car chases and shootouts (which are below average and rarely entertaining).
Far more disappointing is that for a movie that depicts Travis engaging in some despicable behavior early on (he digs up personal information about Mira’s past for threatening purposes), Blacklight (which Mark Williams also has a story credit for alongside Nick May and Brandon Reavis, with the former writing the screenplay) is all too quick to redirect this moral alignment, shoving aside other potential heroes in the process so Liam Neeson can save the day while promoting the necessities of guns and whatnot for self-defense. This is also something that feels directly at odds with his real-life beliefs, which he is apparently comfortable throwing away for a paycheck in another generic thriller.
Yes, Liam Neeson has revitalized a career off of shootout adrenaline. Still, none of them have felt so uncomfortably pro-gun and fear-mongering propaganda leaning as Blacklight. It’s a movie that ends with Travis jokingly but earnestly desiring to teach Natalie about guns and explosives. Blacklight is as irredeemable as the FBI director’s actions throughout.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com