Written by: Matt Patti | February 9th, 2022
Blacklight (Mark Williams, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
Political thrillers aren’t often the huge box-office hits they were a decade or so ago, but they’re still quite prevalent, specifically in the indie scene. Sadly, many of these films start to feel redundant and it can be difficult to truly distinguish one from another, likely the leading cause of their decline. So many of them follow the same basic formula: a top-secret operative or government agent works for a very powerful person catching “bad guys,” but they soon discover that they may be working for the wrong side and that their employer may be hiding something. In Blacklight, director Mark Williams (Honest Thief) offers yet another variation of this tired plot but manages to keep it just intriguing enough, with a few mysteries, to keep the audience invested. Unfortunately, though, poor writing and dialogue, along with forgettable characters, sink Blacklight.
In the film, government operative Travis Block (Liam Neeson, The Ice Road) works for the FBI and helps special agents get out of tense, troublesome situations. He also lends a hand in dealing with folks whom the FBI classifies as “ticking time bombs”: dangerous individuals who pose a threat to the security of the United States. Meanwhile, he struggles to achieve work-life balance and wants to find more time to spend with his granddaughter, Natalie (Gabriella Sengos). He comes to the conclusion that it may be time to hang it up, but his persistent boss, and FBI director, Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn, Spiked), refuses to let him walk away. Furthermore, the suspicious death of a rising-star politician leads Block to uncover a shocking plan to target U.S. citizens, making him question his allegiances.
The movie does a good job of keeping viewer interest high by introducing myriad different mysteries. Not only is Block stuck in the middle of a potential government conspiracy, but at the same time he also finds his granddaughter has been drawing pictures of a stranger that she says watches them from outside her house. The film also introduces several more gripping ideas, but unfortunately Blacklight ends up biting off more than it can chew, spawning more questions than it can answer and featuring some story threads that lead nowhere. In terms of action sequences, the film offers occasionally tense car chases, but the head-to-head combat scenes are subpar. The filmmakers also choose to include strange lens flares and camera ripple effects at certain points in the film that seem very out of place. I imagine they thought to use these as a visual representation of emphasis, but they come off as distracting and pointless.
The characters, unfortunately, do not complement the narrative and the writing and dialogue do nothing to help the characters. The supporting cast is not compelling and the performances are uninspired and dry. Neeson’s Block is exactly what you’d expect a Liam Neeson government agent character to be: a grizzled veteran who is getting old and can still go toe-to-toe with anyone but has a soft spot for his family. Anyone who even lightly follows Neeson knows that he mostly plays this same type of character in almost every role. There’s a reason for that, which is that Neeson is very good at what he does. But even he falls a bit flat here and is nowhere near as outstanding as he usually is in these parts. The film is also littered with bland, basic, on-the-nose dialogue. When actors are not given great material to work with, even the brightest stars can fade.
In the end, Blacklight is destined to be lost in the muddled sea of throwaway political thrillers. It has the potential to be something memorable with its several captivating subplots, but the payoff doesn’t satisfy for some of them and the characters are not compelling enough to embrace. There’s a certain audience that absolutely adores these types of films no matter how unimpressive or clichéd they get, and I think that audience can have some fun with this film. However, for the rest of us who might expect a bit more than a run-of-the-mill political thriller (and have seen other Liam Neeson-led films that take similar paths but do it much better), Blacklight will likely be left in the dark.