An unhappy lion mascot, a straight talking chick fed up with sexual double standards, a hypochondriac 18 year old gay guy who just got into med school: all these colorful characters collide... See full summary »
Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron
Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron
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David Zimmerman III
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This is a film about a troubled teen, Sean Randall, who is falsely accused of planning a Columbine shooting scenario. It all begins when an unlikely bond forms between Sean (Connor Jessup) and a preppy teenage girl named Deanna Roy (Alexia Fast). Deanna's boyfriend is deeply threatened by Sean and Deanna's friendship, resulting in a violent confrontation. Seeking to protect himself, Sean issues a death threat online - and is swiftly arrested. When the police raid Sean's home, they find rifles, shotguns, knives and ammunition - all property of Sean's father Ricky (Michael Buie), an avid hunter. They also find a supposed "hit list" with twenty names of people who have tormented Sean. The authorities and the media proclaim another Columbine has been narrowly averted, and soon Sean faces a terrifying imprisonment in a youth detention facility. Sean's only hope is to overcome his dark image, and prove his innocence to Deanna and to his community. Written by
My career as a movie journalist began with a juvie drama in 2006 when I
traveled to the SXSW Film Festival to attend the World Premiere of "The
Bondage." That picture, starring Michael Angarano and Mae Whitman, made
my first festival Top 10 list. In 2010, two other juvie dramas, both at
the Philadelphia Film Festival, ended up on my Top 10 from that event.
Those films, the Romania/Sweden co-production "If I Want to Whistle, I
Whistle" and the Canada/France/UK co-production "Dog Pound," raised the
bar a bit more for this oft-explored sub-genre. Now another Canadian
entry mines this fertile territory with "Blackbird," the auspicious
feature debut of writer/director/producer Jason Buxton.
Let it be said at the outset that this is not an overly complicated
narrative, and isn't meant to be. There's essentially one set, the
detention center where the boys are held. Although the storyline is
chilling and timely, it would be best not to reveal the details of why
they're there, and it isn't really what "Blackbird" is about.
Ultimately, this is an intense character study revolving around a
couple of jailed teens, Sean and Trevor. In that sense it's quite
theatrical, and one can easily see this as a stage production. It's a
two-man show, and the filmmakers triumph because of the actors'
palpable passion for and commitment to the project.
Connor Jessup is Sean, protagonist in the delicate dance on which his
survival depends. His nemesis Trevor is played by Alex Ozerov. Buxton
made the wise decision to cast actors of the same age, so Jessup's
commanding performance -- he was 17 at the time -- is that much more
remarkable. Not a huge surprise, though, since he's been acting since
the age of 13 and in five short years has almost 50 television episodes
under his belt, including a season of the Steven Spielberg-produced
"Falling Skies." He's also accomplished behind the camera, as well,
having executive produced and handling assistant camera for last year's
Toronto Film Festival hit "Amy George." Ozerov has several television
productions and shorts to his credit as well. This is his first
feature. Yet he's on screen in virtually every scene and is a worthy
foe to Jessup. The film doesn't work without his almost demonic
counterpoint to the just this side of angelic Sean. The movie's success
largely rests on the shoulders of Jessup, and he's more than up to the
task. What a casting coup. The camera loves him and the physical
transformation he goes through, although expected given the genre, is
surprising nonetheless. Connor Jessup is a star in the making.
There are other characters intertwined with the primary pas-de-deux
between Sean and Trevor. The triumvirate of Sean's pivotal
relationships is rounded out by his dad Ricky (Michael Buie) and friend
Deanna (Alexia Fast). The cast also includes a rowdy crew of fellow
inmates. Their improvised actions and dialogue just add even more to
The film's look effectively matches the protagonist's (and our)
emotions. Lighting is harsh and subdued in the cold facility, with
shadows in Sean's dark world when his life seems to make little sense.
He's more brightly lit as his character starts to transform. The
soundtrack serves the narrative and is never distracting in what is
basically a quiet experience on many levels.
Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron's cinematography is appropriately
claustrophobic. In Sean's life, the walls are closing in. He's a
stranger in a strange land. Long takes with little dialogue echo the
work of Gus Van Sant, who's covered similar ground in his films. Rear
tracking shots mirror the increasing paranoia of Sean's entrapment. One
can sense him asking, "Is there someone behind me?" And there is -- the
There's more character development than one may be used to as it's
vital for us to be drawn into Sean's world long before his situation
begins its downward spiral. By the time the threats to his well-being
become real, we feel his pain. Just as we settle into a comfort level
with this crew, the roller coaster begins. From that point on Sean is
the heart and soul of "Blackbird." Told with limited dialogue, the film
is so compelling that I could not look away for fear I'd miss another
dramatic glance, or glare, or flinch. By the time the credits rolled I
felt drained, as though my emotions were incarcerated in Sean's cell.
That's the very definition of art, being moved, feeling alive even as
your heart is being put through the wringer. That's not an easy task to
accomplish for young actors and a first-time feature director, but
"Blackbird" does it, and gets it right.
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