I’m sorry to admit, but I’m a horrible Canadian. Furthermore, I’m probably a horrible film lover. Why is this? Because I tend to more or less write off Canadian cinema. I probably watch more foreign films than I watch Canadian films. And that’s not a good thing. Maybe it’s because I rather see what life is like in a part of the world that I haven’t lived in my entire life, or maybe it’s because I assume it will lack a certain quality. The latter based off the majority of Canadian television (yeah, I don’t really watch that either).
When it comes to TIFF though, I tend to put any preconceptions aside, and see films that have an interesting synopsis. And that’s why I decided to see Jason Buxton’s directoral debut “Blackbird.” A film that follows the events of a high school student who has been charged with planning to massacre 27 of his fellow high school students. While this is the setting for the film, the message concerns Canada’s Young Offenders Act. And act that is meant to help those under 18 who have been charged with a crime by not releasing their photograph, or name, but as the film shows, also silents them.
This message is sent very clear, and there is a true sense of frustration in how the court proceedings take place. Of course we’re all too familiar now with the reality that once charged with a crime, you’re guilty until proven innocent, and that is the case with Blackbird. The character of Sean (Connor Jessup) is advised by his father, and legal counsel, to plead guilty to the charge in order receive a “slap on the wrist” and avoid any more jail time. Of course this contradicts with Sean’s moral compass, despite the threat of physical violence, even death, within the prison. And herein lies the problem with the film.
Everything outside of the jail works for me, but inside of it, I just don’t find it very believable. There is one event particularly, where Sean is almost murdered by a fellow inmate, something that in and of itself seems off given the way the environment has been setup, but furthermore, it goes on to not only forgive the person who wanted him dead, but they have a heart to heart afterwards. Unfortunately for me, this just comes across as an attempt to leave the audience happy with the the characters portrayed in the film. It’s easy to create likeable characters, but it’s difficult to ones.
The reason why it felt this way became evident during the Q&A, when it was revealed that neither of the actors who portrayed the juveniles, had actually consulted with anyone of their age who has actually been to prison. They did mention lengthy conversations with the director, but he made no mention of any jail time served.
Overall though it is a strong directorial debut, the acting for the better part is impressive, but ultimately I left the film feeling neither here nor there.