BLACKBIRD – movie review

Screen Media
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Roger Michell
Screenwriter: Christian Torpe
Cast: Bex Taylor-Klaus, Sam Neill, Mia Wasikowska, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Rainn Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Anson Boon
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/20/20
Opens: September 18, 2020


A blackbird is a symbol of intuition, wit and knowledge while on the other hand the bird which has sometimes scared people, can represent darkness. The latter symbol may be at work primarily in Roger Michell’s drama about family, euthanasia, and one major twist that occurs late in the drama—though audience members born under the intuition represented by the bird might guess what that may be. “Blackbird is in the hands of director Michell, whose “My Cousin Rachel” is a revenge drama that becomes complicated when the avenger falls under the charms of the beautiful woman he targets.

Still of Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in Blackbird (2019)

The only kind of revenge that we see in “Blackbird” could be that of a woman who is afflicted with the dread disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) raging against nature for giving her a plague that neither she nor anyone else deserves. But Lily (Susan Sarandon) has accepted her fate, and unwilling to die naturally—if you can call waiting until you can’t swallow can’t speak, can’t move your legs and arms and ultimately suffocate natural—she chooses suicide, or euthanasia. Such an exit is legal in only a few states but carried out only when a victim succeeds in jumping through hoops. She is married to Paul (Sam Neill), a doctor, able to acquire enough pentobarbital to kill half an army, as he puts it.

“Blackbird,” a remake of Bille August’s 2014 Danish picture “Silent Heart,” or “Stille hjerte,” closely follows that trajectory of three generations of a family who come together as a final sendoff to Lily. But this is not the lively affair that we see in the 1996 film “It’s My Party,” Randal Kleiser’s look at a mostly young family contingent joined together to say farewell to a man afflicted with AIDS who chooses to die on his own terms. In fact, for most of the story, we watch family and friends gather and socialize in the incredibly spacious and posh home (filmed by Mike Eley in West Sussex, England). The usual pleasantries take up too much time; the hugs, the aimless chit-chat. Still there are moments of grand humor, mostly centered on the Michael (Rainn Wilson), klutzy husband of Paul and Lily’s daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), a pedant whose wife criticizes his lack of emotions and who guesses that if she threw a glass of wine in his face, she would probably hear in what district the grapes were grown.

As you might expect, not everybody is cool with Lily’s plans, particularly Anna (Mia Waskowska), who has shown up with her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and who is furious that her mother never took the time to get to know her. She asks Lily to delay the plan to allow the two of them to do just that. Not so Lily’s sister Jennifer, who insists that euthanasia is Lily’s decision. And in fact Lily, in the final moments, appears to demand that the guests assembled agree unanimously to her decision, the “jury” threatening to be hung by Anna.

Despite her small role Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s best friend who sometimes join her and Paul on vacations, plays a key role in the film’s best plot twist. Ultimately, though, “Blackbird” suffers from Sam Neill’s passivity and from Susan Sarandon’s phoning in her performance. Diane Keaton, originally selected to play the part, would have turned in acting better conveying Lily’s controlling decision.

97 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – C+
Technical – B
Overall – C+