Blackbird Review

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The sluggish secret agent thriller Blackbird has been hanging around since its near-mythical 2018 premiere – but let’s not beat around the bush: this is un film de Michael Flatley. The ridiculously successful dancer-choreographer is star, writer, executive producer and director (some of it was even shot at his own mansion in County Cork). Dancers can make brilliant directors – think Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse – but none of the creativity, energy and entrepreneurship that turned Riverdance from a half-time act at the Eurovision Song Contest into a populist stage phenomenon is present and correct here. It’s just a cheapo James Bond knock-off without any of the scale, spectacle or smarts.

Flatley is Victor Blackley aka Blackbird, a former member of The Chieftains – not the Irish folk band formed in Dublin in 1962 but an underground group with Patrick Bergin as ‘The Head’. After his fiancée is murdered by terrorists in a jungle (drip-fed through poorly executed flashbacks), Victor leaves the spy life to open a nightclub called The Blue Moon in the Caribbean — like a Poundland Rick Blaine. Into his establishment walks Blake Molyneux (Eric Roberts), who belongs to secret society The Crusading Revolutionaries (they wear rings; they always wear rings) who sell arms to insurgents in Africa. The MacGuffin is — no word of a lie — a secret formula that can be used for good by repairing human immune systems but with one small twist dropped into a city’s water supply will kill millions and allow Molyneux’s plan for a New World Order.

The writing is as heavy-footed as Flatley once was light on his toes. Funerals take place in pouring rain. London is established with Big Ben chiming (this also being a London where red telephone boxes still work). Some of the dialogue is so tin-eared it was probably written on the yellow brick road to Oz (“I wonder what you love more: women, money or playing God?”; “Bless me father for I have sinned… and I’m about to sin again!”). In the canon of performers directing themselves, it’s hard to think of a filmmaker who gives his hero (aka himself) so much reverence. We are told early on about Blackley that, “No-one can do what he does.” Flatley directs himself walking into a party like he’s a Russian billionaire (to the strains of ‘Mack The Knife’, no less), and younger women throw themselves at him despite his penchant for overly tight-fitting shirts. No wonder Victor Blackley scans with Michael Flatley.

If you want to be kind, the camera is rarely static — a figure-of-eight tracking-shot during a torture scene is slick — but Blackbird’s direction is ham-fisted and inert. At some point in the future, a drinking game will certainly arise around necking whiskey every time a scene begins with Victor looking wistfully from his balcony into the distance.

The only great performance in the movie is performed by Flatley’s hats, which seem to never end. A trilby tilted at a jaunty angle suggests more feeling than the actor (Flatley) ever does. In another part, what was supposed to be an intense game of Texas hold ’em with Blackley turns into a Casino Royale with cheese. To start his final showdown with Molyneux, Blackley drops the one-liner, “Shall we dance?”, and at this point, he has become so self-important that it is beyond belief. This takes 88 minutes, but by now the answer is obvious: no.

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