Blackbird – movie review

The controversial topic of euthanasia comes under the microscope in Roger Michell’s drama Blackbird.

Lily (Susan Sarandon) is in her late 60s and is terminally ill. Her husband, Paul (Sam Neill), a doctor, has the medication, which is legal in several states, but not where they live. He intends to administer it and make up a story to tell the police. But before that the family, disparate though it is, gathers.

Older daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is a strait-laced control freak. Her husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) is a fact-sprouting nerd. Their 15-year-old son Jonathan (Anson Boon) is trying to find his own way. Lily’s other daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska), has always been a problem child, seemingly lost, unable to stick to anything and settle down. She and her sister Jennifer clash regularly. Anna arrives with her younger, on-again, off-again girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). Elisabeth (Lindsay Duncan) is Lily’s oldest friend. They had their “wild” days. The pair went to college together, travelled together and shared experiences.

Now, over an early Christmas dinner, it’s not all beer and skittles, although there are a few laughs. We know something is wrong from the outset because Lily has lost the use of her left arm, she walks slowly and uncomfortably, and even a little activity tires her out. There are awkward silences all around.

Blackbird is the work of Danish writer Christian Torpe with Michell (My Cousin Rachel) directing. It took me 20 minutes before what’s happening became clear. By then you may have switched off … and I can understand why. Is the subterfuge really necessary? Not when the point of the movie is to discuss the action being taken and the dysfunctional family dynamic. So, it takes quite some time for the film to pick up a gear.

Once it does, there are some pleasant and not-so-pleasant exchanges as we learn more about the characters. The film however provides food for thought – “what would I do under the circumstances?”.

Blackbird hardly sets the world on fire, but provides a few twists on a subject filled with angst.

Alex First

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