BLACKWAY poster with its original title.

Why Did Anyone Get Out of Bed for This?

Castle Freeman Jr. wrote a short novel entitled GO WITH ME that has its enthusiasts, and a film version premiered at the 72nd Venice Film Festival under that title, with an impressive cast and an accredited director. It’s been all downhill since then as the film finally has arrived on Video on Demand under the title BLACKWAY, playing a few scattered theaters across the country.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever worked on!” said no one who worked on BLACKWAY, ever.

Julia Stiles and Anthony Hopkins reunite after their merry experience on MISCONDUCT(!), joined by Ray Liotta as the resident psychopath master-criminal who apparently has the whole Pacific Northwest terrified (think Ben Gazarra in ROADHOUSE with an even less capable crew of thugs). The screenplay is by Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs, who made CRIMINAL with John C. Reilly and MAGIC MIKE XXL for Steven Soderbergh. The director, Daniel Alfredson, made the Swedish films featuring Noomi Rapace based on the two sequels to Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO , and more recently KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN with Hopkins, who has a producer credit on this, making it a project that some of the participants apparently had some skin in. BLACKWAY, all dreary rain-swept greys and blues, almost dares a viewer to nod off; there is potential in its simplistic story, which is why I hoped I might make a sweet discovery, but it’s hard to ignore the forces of logic and responsibility. That which survives in the released version offers little evidence of why anyone got out of bed to make this.

Blackway is No Harry Lime.



Liotta is Blackway,  predisposed to cutting the heads off little kittens, and as a character who is talked about ceaselessly in hushed whisper it might have been better to build to a climactic arrival where he emerges, a la Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN.  But he shows up throughout BLACKWAY in unimaginative scenes and flashbacks, generally making a nuisance of himself, not helped by Liotta not looking particularly well.  Why not make a villain with some memorably baroque details? When Liotta pulls over Hopkins in a flashback, dressed as a deputy,  I was hopeful he was a rich psychopath who just dressed up as a deputy for shits and giggles, with the town too cowed to stop him, but it appears at one undefined point in the past he simply was a deputy.  Why not make him charming and sardonic, with a sense of jazz to his menacing riffs,  or someone more memorably unhinged and pathetic who suddenly goes on about the Jews when he gets stuck at a red light or something? Blackway is just a punk, and its hard to imagine why someone hasn’t taken care of him already.

Julia Stiles uses her vaguely Chinese eyes to express unceasing irritation, in both this and MISCONDUCT.  Her character is  irksome, requesting help with a homicidal maniac, but then whining like a humorless Mary Richards when the only local willing to help, an 80-year old man, played by a rather taciturn Hopkins, suggests bringing a gun.  Oh, and Alexander Ludwig is a young man who also helps, his motives never clearly defined, but he stutters, so we know he’s all right.

“It feels like the movie ran out of money early….”


Still.  Still! A Hal Holbrook sighting!  Holbrook steals every scene he is in, and gets a monologue about an hour in; the monologue is not much, I’ve already forgotten it, I think it was backstory about Hopkins’ character or more foreboding cryptic remarks about that damn Blackway, but it’s done in one take, allowing Holbrook to act.  So I’m thankful for that.

It feels like the movie ran out of money early, and Alfredson wasn’t involved in the editing.  The pacing is slow, with shots held and scenes pointlessly extended, trying to get the movie to 90 minutes. At one point Stiles mentions Blackway trashing her car, something never shown onscreen, and there is confusing exposition – Stiles talks as if she left town as an infant, but then immediately knows a girl handcuffed to a bed in a hillbilly meth motel, but isn’t recognized by anybody else in this very small town where everyone knows her mother. Ah, well.  Everyone else has moved on in life, why am I examining BLACKWAY in such detail?

“…the Hillbilly meth hotel”


Anyway, most of the movie is our boring trio of Stiles, Hopkins and Ludwig trudging here and there, asking about Blackway, and either being warned away or attacked.  When they finally get to a Hillbilly meth motel it looks like we might be in for some sordid fun, but they torch it immediately and spend the final half an hour hiking around a forest.  Because Blackway, the most feared man for miles, who controls the local meth and white-slavery rings, apparently runs to the forest and hides a lot.  So for the final third of the movie we have a lot of trees and mud and more grey-blue filters. There’s a couple of nice fog-draped shots (the film was shot in Vancouver), but by the time Stiles and Ludwig are having stunted philosophical conversations around a fire at night (“some people are just bad”) BLACKWAY has me thinking of taking up gardening or embroidery.

So when a film has Academy-Award winners muttering dialogue like “You’re gonna go all the way.  There’s no turning back.  Are you ready for that?”, uncertain, randomly inserted flashbacks that don’t reveal much, and an oddly drawn-out resolution, you just gotta figure that the money ran out and the energy flagged.  Too many highly competent people were involved for this sleepy result to have been the best they could do.  BLACKWAY is a low-wattage gig that will only really please those who have a fetish for blue and grey color timing.

About Author

James Kenney reviews film for What’cha Reading? and is an editor and film reviewer at QueensFreePress. He writes fiction for Hooked, an iPad application featured on TechCrunch, Fast Company, Business Insider and CNNMoney, won a New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship for his screenplay Secret Vienna, and has a pilot, The Whip, in development at Spike TV. He is an English Lecturer at Queensborough Community College as well as Bronx Community College, and lives in Queens New York with his wife and two children. You can follow James on twitter @jfkenney and check out more of his reviews on http://www.queensfreepress.com/author/jkenney/

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