The silence of the executioner
There are national passions against which no one can fight. India and musical films, England and black comedies or even the United States and serial killers. This fascination as unhealthy as jubilant constitutes the very basis of black bird. Based on an autobiographical novel by James Keen, the new Apple TV+ miniseries tells the story of a prisoner who is offered a strange deal. He can see his sentence of 10 years in prison completely canceled on condition of obtaining the confessions of Larry Hall, alleged serial killer.
Then begins a classic excursion into the American prison world and the psyche of a potential psychopath. We travel on familiar ground, at the crossroads between the realistic reconstruction of mindhunter Where Zodiac and stimulating handling way Thesilenceofthelambs. Maybe that’s where black bird finds its limit. By its simple premise, the series must seek typical characters and narrative structures that we already know (too) well.
What do you mean, David Fincher has already said everything on the subject?
Among the stereotypes, we are notably entitled to yet another re-reading of the Confederate redneck who goes from victim to victim at the wheel of his van. These shots are obviously based on the incident of James Keen. Still, we end up wondering if it’s not time to look for the demons of America in other social classes rather than turning around the same populations.
It also lacks black bird a touch of madness. We can greet some outbursts of violenceespecially a raw and unexpected prisoner battle during episode 4. But overall, everything remains a little too smooth and clean so that the story really disturbs us as much as it seems to want.
Look me in the eye, you’re a murderer
DENNIS: PORTRAIT OF A SERIES AUTHOR
Despite the limitations imposed by the very nature of the exercise, there is one man who makes all the difference on this project: Dennis Lehane. Best-selling author to whom we owe the triumphs Shutter Island and Mystic Riverthis is not his first attempt as a screenwriter since he has already worked on episodes of TheWire and Baordwalk Empire. Just that.
He again confirms his talent with rigorous writing, which alleviates many of the heaviness present in Keen’s book. By eliminating a good part of the purely theoretical and psychiatric aspect of the autobiography, Lehane avoids explaining her killer too much. Not only does it circumvent the risk of pouring into counter psychology, but in addition it gives the character a very effective mysterious aura.
The refined art of the rouflaquette
But the author goes even further in his reappropriation of the project. He manages to connect this news item to the themes that inhabit all his works for decades. More specifically his fascination with deviant psychology and his fear of confinement.
Indeed, if black bird is an investigative story, it is above all an excellent prison thriller. Anxiogenic distress is terribly effective, to the point of becoming the very engine of our main character in search of freedom. And even if the investigative sequences outside the prison harm the rhythm of the narration, as soon as we return behind bars, the series captivates us.
Prison Breaking Bad
THE LAUNDRY OF MADNESS
The other obvious strength of black bird, it is its total technical success. First of all in terms of the staging. Among the three directors at the helm, we most often find Michael R. Roskam to whom we owe the excellent Bullheadbut also the friendly When the night comes – already scripted by Dennis Lehane. Result a series full of staging ideas, which constantly manages to surprise us with its visual mastery. The image is both worked and organic, served by a montage with surgical precision.
Furthermore, black bird offers us an absolutely insane cast. Far from the elegant violence of Kingsman or the sparkling madness of Rocketman, Taron Egerton delivers a performance that commands respect. A gruff, physical game, in the service of an always ambiguous character. Facing him, Paul Walter Hauser is just terrifying. Far from the touching sobriety he displayed in The Richard Jewell Casehe embodies here an absolute Evil whose simple voice, too high, is enough to create discomfort.
A posthumous role in finesse and dignity
At the heart of this five-star cast, we will particularly remember the late Ray Liotta in one of his very last screen appearances. There are something deeply moving in his way of interpreting a broken father, plagued by guilt and illness. The parlor scenes with his son will crack even the most insensitive of spectators.
To complete this stimulating meeting of talents, the Mogwai sign an exciting soundtrack. We find the magnetic synths, the fascinating loops and the slight disturbing distortions which make the reputation of the Scottish group. Their music offers a whole new dimension to the images, regularly playing on the contrast. A nursery rhyme to accompany the violence, a Carpenter-like synth during the rare peaceful sequences. Like black birdthe composition is deceptively familiar, but above all beautifully bewitching.
The first two episodes of Black Bird have been available on Apple TV+ since July 8, 2022. The remaining episodes will air weekly until August 5, 2022.