‘Black Bird’ review: Taron Egerton’s in Prison, Ray Liottas Outside
Taron Egerton is at the center of Apple’s new drama “Black Bird”, a show that primarily asks him to be a reactive force. Complicated in the prison system after his plan to demand a short sentence for a short drug charge exploded, Egerton’s Jimmy Keene gets the opportunity to get out. His freedom depends on being able to retrieve information from the maximum secure prisoner Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser) before he is released on appeal. Against Hauser’s massive performance of criminal madness or simply madness, Egerton is forced to be resourceful, to find ways to show us who Jimmy is outside the object of misfortune: That he largely succeeds draws “Black Bird” across the line.
Like many programs today, “Black Bird” would clearly work better as a movie; It was developed and executive produced by Dennis Lehane, whose novels, including “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island,” have been gritty for movies. (In fact, powered by Apple money, the show looks, and with a beautiful score by the Scottish band Mogwai, sounds better than a lot of streaming TV.) Stretching it out gives more property, first and foremost to Hauser, whose performance as a man who is or is not telling the truth about having murdered a number of young girls decreases in mystery the more we see. Similarly, Greg Kinnear feels stranded in a subplot about a police officer working on the case who ends up diluting the energy and insight into what is happening in prison. And the late Ray Liotta – in one of his last performances – does a good job as Jimmy’s desperate, disappointed, but still loving father, but the series tends to use repeated depictions of his desperate, disappointed love to say three times what which can be communicated most clearly once.
Through the haze of maturity and sporadic turns to the ridiculous – Sepideh Moafi plays a police officer whose flirtatious, charged relationship with Jimmy feels like a wish come true – Egerton finds his way through. Jimmy Keene’s existence as a real person (probably with a story that is a little less imaginative) does not limit Egerton, who plays him as a junk who is flickeringly aware that his charm has limits. The show is at its strongest when it allows Egerton to express the vulnerability, pain and fear that exist under an exterior of unforgettable charisma and abilities. (In this way, it may not be much of a leap for a performer who previously played a cracking-up, when Elton John reappeared in “Rocketman.”)
One would wish that the series had a more skilful ability to play different tones: There is an overwhelming sense of dread, taken from the brutality of the crimes for which Larry is convicted, which becomes suffocating; released weekly, it should be consumed that way, as it would make for a lousy binge. (An attempt at tonal variation, in an attempt to connect the series to a kind of basic American grotesqueness through the framing of Hauser’s military reintroductions, is not entirely coherent.) Still, as a frame for a gifted young star, “Black Bird” is useful and solidly built, its resolute unsurprisingness, after some very early fireworks, goes from frustrating to calmly comfortable as the hours go by.
“Black Bird” will release its first two episodes on Friday 8. July 2022 on Apple TV +, followed by a new episode weekly every Friday.