Universal Pictures | June 10, 2022 | 146 Mins. | Action, Sci-Fi, Adventure
BLACK BIRD (2022) l AppleTV+ | Release Date: July 8, 2022 | New Episodes Friday
Inspired by actual events, when high school football hero and decorated policeman’s son Jimmy Keene (Taron Egerton) is sentenced to 10 years in a minimum security prison, he is given the choice of a lifetime — enter a maximum-security prison for the criminally insane and befriend suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), or stay where he is and serve his full sentence with no possibility of parole. Keene quickly realizes his only way out is to elicit a confession and find out where the bodies of several young girls are buried before Hall’s appeal goes through. But is this suspected killer telling the truth? Or is it just another tale from a serial liar? This dramatic and captivating story subverts the crime genre by enlisting the help of the very people put behind bars to solve its mysteries.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Black Bird is an intriguing true crime miniseries that makes for an enjoyable yet unsettling watch, though it is the lead performances of Taron Egerton and Paul Walter Hauser that steal the show.
Once again, Apple TV+ has delivered a quality television series that shows that they are dedicated to quality film making rather than the volume approach you see other streaming platforms taking. And while their latest miniseries is not without its issues, it is well worth your time checking out.
Inspired by true events, the miniseries follows James Keene, a convicted man, recruited by the FBI to be transferred to maximum security to befriend Larry Hall, a convicted serial killer. There, Keene must learn the location of where Hall buried the bodies of numerous teenaged girls and any other details of the ways in which Hall murdered these young girls as soon as posisble so this information can be used to prevent Hall from being released during his impending appeal trial. Playing out over six episodes, we see how this task takes a toll on Keene and his family as he tries to extract information out of Hall, while finding himself left utterly alone to fend for himself in maximum security prison. This miniseries is for fans of true crime, as it is a dramatization of that genre.
The writing is great, fully developing the characters and highlighting the difficulties the authorities faced in originally arresting Hall and to keep his appeal from being granted. Though, the first three episodes are terribly slow and could have been condensed into two episodes, which would have allowed the story to move along quicker. However, the final three episodes are absolutely riveting, building towards a truly frightening conclusion. The miniseries is the definition of a slow burn, adult oriented storytelling, which on one hand I appreciate. But at the same time the pacing could have been better if this was a five episode miniseries rather than a six episode miniseries. While the story wraps up fairly quickly in the final episode, the writers do a great job of closing off each storyline to let the audience know what happened to these characters and how the rest of their lives played out, without solely relying on text appearing seconds before the credits to inform the audience of what happened.
The supporting cast is composed of solid performances that carry the drama of the story outside of the maximum security prison. Greg Kinnear is good as the cop who originally linked Hall to the murders, creating a portrayal of a man driven to find the monster responsible for this disturbing string of murders. Sepideh Moafi is a nice addition as the FBI agent running Keene and the search for information to keep Hall behind bars, mixing compassion with a determination to keep Hall locked away for the rest of his life. Ray Liotta, in his final television appearance and one of his last performances, is compelling as Keene’s sick father, trying to remain strong for his son stuck in this unthinkable situation. Bringing an undeniable amount of grief and emotion to the role of this father struggling with his own health, while grappling with the ends that his own son will go to so that he can see him one last time, it’s a wonderful performance from Liotta that shows how versatile an actor he was.
Though, make no mistake: it is the lead performances of Taron Egerton and Paul Walter Hauser that steal the entire miniseries. Egerton has time and time again proven what a phenomenal young actor he is in countless film roles, spanning multiple genres, and he continues to show that breadth as an actor in this role. Taking on the role of a man with a dark past, but one we are meant to root for, Egerton takes the audience on a ride as we witness him transform from a truly despicable character to a man out of his depth, causing you to hold your breath hoping that he survives and completes his mission. It’s an incredible performance where Egerton plays with multiple emotions, and is able to manipulate the audience to feel differently about his character over the course of the miniseries, proving why he is such a talented young actor.
Opposite him is Hauser, and he is truly frightening. Hauser may deliver the best performance of a serial killer since Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. During every scene, Hauser is absolutely chilling, finding the perfect balance of childish mannerisms with an unhinged and terrifying sociopath tendency. Even though his voice is soft and high pitched, you can sense that untethered madness behind every line of dialogue. And when he finally loses control, you will be shaking in your seat.
As a duo, Egerton and Hauser are sublime, delivering the most compelling moments of the entire miniseries. Their scenes together are the definition of powerhouse performances, and it's for these two sharing the screen alone that makes Black Bird a must watch miniseries. Despite some pacing issues in the first couple of episodes, Taron Egerton and Paul Walter Hauser deliver two powerhouse performances that make Black Bird a miniseries event you will want to check out.