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Blackbird

  • Film
  • 1 out of 5 stars
Blackbird
Photograph: Brian Doherty
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Time Out says

1 out of 5 stars

The Lord of the Dance delivers a historically awful vanity project

To call Michael Flatley’s feature debut long awaited might put too positive a spin on things. But it is certainly technically true. Flatley first screened the film in 2018, an ‘I was there’ moment on a par with being in the live audience for Katie Price’s Eurovision audition or attending the Fyre Festival. It’s taken four years to inflict it on the larger public. Whatever Flatley’s been doing with it in that time, he certainly hasn’t been improving it.

Flatley is star, director and writer of Blackbird. To some degree you have to respect his chutzpah in making it. Nobody was ever going to cast the Lord of the Dance as a James Bond-type hero, so he decided to do it himself. Who, if they were worth hundreds of millions, wouldn’t at least consider the same? He had a dream and he fulfilled it. Unfortunately, it’s not a dream anybody else shared and he makes no persuasive case that we should.

Flatley plays Victor Blackley, aka The Blackbird, a secret agent with a group called The Chieftains, who suddenly retires after the death of his fiancee. Just why her death forced his retirement is his darkest secret, which you will guess immediately. Victor builds a new life running a hotel in the Caribbean, where he whiles away the nights fending off the advances of beautiful young women and wearing many hats (so many hats, all tipped at a jaunty angle, like he’s just run to set from a regional production of ‘Guys and Dolls’). His old life comes back to haunt him when a colleague from the past (Nicole Evans) shows up with her new arms-dealer husband (Eric Roberts).

We’re told early on that Victor is irreplaceable in The Chieftains. Nobody can do what he does. What he does so well is anybody’s guess. Mostly Victor scowls. Flatley can’t get enough of Victor scowling alone in rooms. He scowls while shaving shirtless. He scowls while knocking back a whisky. He scowls while looking out to sea. Flatley seems to believe his face is telling us all the secrets Victor could never speak. Sadly all it tells us is Flatley can’t act silently or out loud. The ‘spy action’, such as it is, amounts to one fight, in which Flatley punches a man three times, killing him. The corpse blinks.

As a filmmaker, Flatley is… wanting. In one long take in Victor’s bar – think that famous Goodfellas shot but awful – Flatley tracks himself as he walks and talks. Except whenever the camera pans away from him he stands stock still until it comes back around, then starts walking again. Another actor looks right down the camera lens. His script lets multiple scenes pass without any plot advancement, then someone will alarmingly blurt lines like ‘I’ve always loved you and you love me too!’ or ‘This chip contains the formula!’ as if they simply can’t keep the plot secret any longer.

Flatley’s tried to make a film that imitates James Bond, yet he’s omitted all the action, comedy and plot. He’s left instead with a film entirely made of those scenes that give you a chance to pop to the loo without missing anything important. Blackbird is a dreadful vanity project, but its saving grace is that it’s so absurdly dreadful that its camp cult status is assured. Expect to be at a screening of this in ten years, surrounded by people wearing a stack of rakishly positioned fedoras and laughing their heads off.

In cinemas in the UK and Ireland Sep 2.

Written by
Olly Richards

Cast and crew

  • Director:Michael Flatley
  • Screenwriter:Michael Flatley
  • Cast:
    • Patrick Bergin
    • Eric Roberts
    • Michael Flatley
    • Nicole Evans
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