by Bill Chambers Jason Buxton's Blackbird is an important film but a primally engaging one that doesn't feel at all like medicine or, God forbid, an Afterschool Special. The destined-for-greatness Connor Jessup is Sean Randall, a broody but essentially sweet teen who lives with his divorced dad (Michael Buie) and loves from afar the popular Deanna (Alexia Fast). Sean's a modern-day Boo Radley, an artistically-inclined goth kid stranded in a passive-aggressive sports culture: His father operates the Zamboni at the local rink where Deanna's boyfriend--Cory (Craig Arnold), natch--practices hockey. Cory torments Sean at school, and a guidance counsellor suggests that rather than retaliate Sean vent his spleen on paper--which he does, via a hypothetical revenge scenario ("It's a story") he stupidly cross-posts to the Internet. The torch-wielding villagers show up at his subsequent court hearing like it's a town-hall meeting; in this post-Columbine world, he's never going to get a fair shake.
After Elephant, We Need to Talk About Kevin (which, let's face it, is not aging well in the rearview), and the truly dire likes of Home Room, it's nice to finally get a "school-massacre" movie with sympathy for the devil. But Sean isn't the devil; I don't think it's meant to be ambiguous when he insists that any talk of killing was just idle fantasy, which isn't the movie being evasive so much as accepting the inconvenient truth that teenagers say a lot of things they don't mean. There's a satisfying moral complexity to the satellites in Sean's orbit, too. Closet-goth Deanna's affection for Sean in private and disdain for him in public is based on fear--and in some respects, Blackbird is as much about her overcoming her vanity as it is about Sean's travails. Sean's dad is openly hostile towards his son, who's obviously not the one he would've ordered from the catalogue, but he continually proves to be someone Sean can count on, in a way that almost brings me to tears just thinking about it. And then there's Trevor (Alex Ozorov), the alpha dog of the youth detention centre where Sean does his stints. Less a person than a festering wound, Trevor targets Sean for a violent hazing, but Sean never quite gives up trying to earn his begrudging respect, not merely as a survival reflex but also, we infer, because he senses that Trevor's whole problem is that everybody's given up on him.
Told with a rare mix of humanity and procedural clarity that recalls, nay, honours the late, great Alan Clarke, Blackbird is an infuriatingly plausible example of a misfit doomed to be neither forgiven nor forgotten for his imaginary crimes and constantly pinballed between those two dead ends as he struggles to move on with his life. The picture highlights the absurdity of a restraining order with 47 names on it, because all those people effectively hold the key to Sean's continued freedom: Who's supposed to be afraid of whom? Programme: Discovery