There is a distinct aura to Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills in the Taken franchise, which is mostly characterized by covert operations, missing family, shootouts, and revenge best served cold. Mark Williams’ Blacklight is reminiscent of Taken in many ways — mainly due to the nature of Neeson’s role — but is ultimately a different film, although the end result is an average genre offering. Although interesting enough to keep audiences hooked with its tense car chases and shootouts, Blacklight sets no new thrills for hardcore action fans.
Blacklight opens with covert FBI operative Travis Block (Neeson) extracting an agent from a deep-cover situation, which generally takes dogged determination and a proclivity for orchestrating dangerous distractions (like blowing up an entire house). Block reports directly to FBI chief Robinson (Aidan Quinn) — for whom he works on an “off-the-books” basis, with no questions asked — as the two seem to share a close friendship. Amidst juggling his dangerous assignments, Block wishes to spend more time with his daughter Amanda (Claire Van Der Boom) and young granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos) but fails to meet their expectations. Block’s Obsessive-Compulsion, coupled with his constant paranoia due to the nature of his job, makes it difficult for him to maintain a balance between family and work.
After the mysterious death of an anti-government activist named Sofia Flores, undercover FBI agent Dusty (Taylor John Smith) goes rogue as he claims to have sensitive information about the bureau’s unethical methods. Attempting to get in touch with journalist Mira (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Dusty evades Block’s interventions to bring him in peacefully, only to be murdered in broad daylight by unknown agents. This incident, coupled with Mira’s increasing questions about the bureau’s true motives, forces Block to re-evaluate his own position in the status quo, wherein he must make a decision as to whether he will simply turn a blind eye to injustice or directly combat it. Naturally, this would mean endangering the safety of his family, while risking being a pariah in the eyes of Robinson.
Narratively, Blacklight plays out like a run-of-the-mill action thriller, following the archetypes of the morally-gray protagonist, the wronged operative, and the truth-seeking journalist. The pacing is frenetic enough to keep the story moving forward, and Block’s character is fleshed out fairly well, at least within the capacity of the primary storyline. The greatest strength of the film is its action sequences, particularly the chase sequence between Block and Dusty, and the tense confrontation towards the end of the film. There’s mention of a shadowy program named Operation Unity, which warrants the killing of innocent citizens for reasons unknown.
The term COINTELPRO is thrown around once or twice, although no attempt is made to reveal the exact nature of Operation Unity or the extent of its reach and consequences. Neeson assumes the garb of Block fairly comfortably, playing a man torn between carrying out his orders and spending more quality time with his family. Quinn and Raver-Lampman play their parts fairly well, driving Blacklight to its inevitable finish. There is nothing remarkable or special about Blacklight — it’s fairly empty, a boilerplate series of dialogue, action, dialogue. However, it is fun to witness Neeson do what he does so well and lose oneself in the thrilling familiarity of hand-to-hand combat and shootouts.