By Paul Heath
By Paul Heath
Blackbird review: Assisted suicide is put under the microscope in this ensemble drama from British filmmaker Roger Michell, a film based on a 2014 Danish feature titled Silent Heart.
Featuring a stellar cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, and Rainn Wilson, the film is set in a New York-state coastal home where a family has come together on one particular weekend to say goodbye to its matriarch, Lily (Sarandon) who is dying from an incurable disease and has chosen to end her own life. Her husband, Paul (Neill) is a doctor and knows the fallout from the disease as it progresses – the body slowly shuts down as it worsens rendering the patient not able to even feed themselves towards the very end. Lily has discussed he plans with her immediate family and has invited them to the house to have one last weekend together before she takes a lethal cocktail.
Arriving is daughter Jennifer (Winslet) and husband Michael (Wilson), and their teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon). There is also a younger daughter Anna (Wasikowska), her partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and life-long friend of the family, Liz (Lindsay Duncan).
All of the narratives largely take place in the confines of the house and it is one of those movies where you know that the coming together of so many people with all of their issues and baggage isn’t going to end well, and of course, it doesn’t. It is also a film which very much does what it says on the tin; it is an emotional journey with laughs and melancholic naval-gazing, one which you’re largely onboard with throughout.
There are plot beats that are expected and others that really aren’t, some for the good and some for the – well, not so good. There is one plot point that comes towards the very end which really isn’t necessary, in my opinion, and absolutely would have been better for the overall completion of the piece is it had been left out.
That said, I didn’t find it manipulative in terms of its sentimentality. I thought that the subject matter was handled very well and that Christian Torpe’s script (he also wrote the original) was very well balanced in terms of its comedy and drama. There are moments when there is a very comedic scene is being played out on screen when very moving music is being played in the background. Likewise, when something more dramatic, the score shifts or stops altogether, and this really works. The dinner scene at the halfway point – one of the film’s stand-out scenes – is a perfect example of this. The music is noticeable but never intrusive and the score overall by Peter Gregson, is truly exceptional and one of the film’s strengths.
The cast, generally, is very good – with that line-up, you’d expect them to be – but particular stand-outs are obviously Sarandon at the helm and the wonderful Sam Neill is exceptional and equally devasting – his character the absolute key to all of this working.
While there are faults, I was pleased to have been taken on this journey. It is another one of those films where you know how it is all going to play out, but you’re not bothered; it is a story that isn’t about its destination. It is one that will spark debate at the ethics, but of course, that is the point and, while I expected to walk away totally drained, actually the opposite happened – I was uplifted, even if I was in need of a big hug too.
Blackbird is currently awaiting a release.