It’s hard to find an actor as capable of dependably churning out action thrillers as Liam Neeson. Decades ago, the actor earned awards attention for his roles in films like Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, and Kinsey, and made a brief return to high-prestige cinema in Martin Scorsese’s Silence in 2016. But Neeson’s reputation is now one of the leading man in revenge films and other blockbusters, with the Taken series among the best-received. Following Cold Pursuit, Honest Thief, and The Marksman, Neeson returns with his annual brawn-over-brains movie that leaves much to be desired, Blacklight.
It would hardly come as a surprise at this point if a law enforcement agency somewhere in the world mistook Neeson’s many credits as a retired ex-soldier, cop, or spy and hired him without double-checking his references. In Blacklight, Neeson plays Travis Block, who works as a fixer of sorts for the FBI, reporting directly to his old friend Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn) and reigning in potential rogue agents who present security risks after being impacted by their undercover work. His latest target, Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith), tries to contact a reporter, Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman), which only strikes Travis as noteworthy once he realizes what it is that Dusty is trying to expose.
Faith in law enforcement is not strong in today’s world, and this film, if taken seriously by any audiences, won’t do much to aid that (fortunately, that’s not much of a risk). The power that police officers have has led to countless unnecessary shootings and killings, and it’s easy to imagine even greater unchecked authority being abused by covert organizations which are not accountable to the public. Any lawmaker or ordinary citizen citing this film as proof of wrongdoing would surely be absurd, but it may be helpful to think of this film’s plot as the product of the worst fears of those with already flagging confidence in the free movement of groups charged with keeping the peace.
Neeson’s name alone is surely a draw for audiences, and this film definitely falls comfortably within the genre of his recent projects. But it also serves as a disappointment in that it never really reaches the same level of many of those films, proceeding along at a slow pace that features a few car chase scenes and some hand-to-hand combat but little else. Its 108-minute runtime hardly feels justified because not all that much happens during it, and far too many minutes are wasted on dialogue, with Travis repeatedly assuring Mira that nothing is amiss and Travis and Gabriel going in circles about his desire to get out of this life and enjoy time with his family.
That Travis even has a family is perhaps the best example of how Blacklight tries to be a straightforward drama when it would have benefited far more from indulging in what it should be: an action movie that doesn’t even make an effort to pretend it makes sense. Its plot isn’t all that far-fetched compared to similar films, but it takes up an unreasonable amount of the film’s runtime. It should be possible to construct a film that is both action-packed and structurally sound, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate that balance. In trying to achieve some sort of equilibrium, this one falls short on both fronts.
While this isn’t his best role of this sort by any stretch, Neeson does at least seem up for the task. It’s not the lazy, uninvested performance that could easily have gone along with the character write-up and surrounding film, and he displays a remarkable amount of energy for a movie that just isn’t as excited as he is. There’s little doubt that Neeson, who this year will turn seventy, will come back for more like this in the future, and it’s reassuring to see that he continues to put effort into his roles and may get some joy out of them, even if audiences don’t necessarily experience the same reward.
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Blacklight opens in theaters on Friday, February 11th .