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‘Blackway’ (2016): Review

A young woman returns to her hometown and unwillingly catches the attention of a local crime lord. She gets help from an old-timer logger to settle the score. But maybe it’s not just she who wants revenge. It’s Blackway.

The importance in establishing menace in a film like Blackway is as key to its success as the story itself. The need to believe that the monster in the back of the cave is as terrifying as all the minions in the outlands say is essential in getting the right investment. In Blackway, Blackway (Ray Liotta) is a spectre in a film that bears his name. He’s an elusive man of seemingly infinite influence who rules will absolute authority. We realize this very early. Lillian (Julia Stiles) arrives in a panic at the sheriff’s office with her beheaded cat. She reports she’s being stalked and has been assaulted. When she mentions Blackway’s name, the sheriff doesn’t hesitate. He recommends she leave town.

Blackway
Alexander Ludwig, Julia Stiles (Blackway, 2016)

She eventually visits a logging operation and meets Lester (Anthony Hopkins). He’s a former logger who still spends time at the site. When the room of other old-timers resist after she mentions Blackway’s name, only Lester agrees to help. He enlists the much younger Nate (Alexander Ludwig), an uneducated, stammering slab of good-natured muscle to join. He’s a loyal follower.

Lester of course has his own motivations for wanting to find Blackway. Blackway is a former patrol cop who turned to drugs and has since built a small empire in this backwoods Pacific Northwestern town. He and Lester have a history. Lester packs a shotgun in the back of Nate’s pickup truck and the three set off, she with one plan, Lester with another. Nate resolves himself to slug his way through whichever one needs him most.

Directed by Daniel Alfredson, based on the book Go With Me by Castle Freeman, Jr., Blackway is a curious film. To start, it’s beautifully photographed. Cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk gloriously captures the lush, haunting forests of the setting. The dichotomy of the dense, thriving woods against the heavily forested barren worksites give the story a truly authentic feel. These are tough, weathered people living in a harsh yet magnificent landscape. The characters are also beautifully rendered. Hopkins is a stoic, mostly wordless man who has demons within and designs to set them free. I loved how the first five minutes of his screen time, he says nothing. He lingers in a corner by a window, watching, absorbing, pondering. The ever-valuable Hal Holbrook makes an appearance as well. He carries two scenes in particular, him an actor of such great presence he all but swallows up the others around him. It’s too bad he’s not in it more. 

Liotta is also barely in the film, reduced to a cameo essentially. When we meet him, about an hour into the story (after a few quick glimpses), he doesn’t quite have the darkness his reputation promises. That is probably by design and is telling of how word of mouth can be the strongest tool for keeping others in line. Still, when we match him with recent comparable heavies in similar backwoods films like Woody Harrelson‘s Harlan DeGroat in the superior Out of the Furnace (2013), it’s a little disappointing.

Stiles is well cast, but the weakest of the lot, by no fault of her own. She is convincing but feels underdeveloped and the motivation for the conflict is a little too conventional, but by no means trivial. It wants to feel like something with history, but is instead minimized by the larger story that develops as the story progresses. On the other hand, Ludwig is very good, a young star in the making who has made some great choices lately. Here, a lumbering shoegazer type that will lie down in front of a train, he’s one of those characters you can’t help but feel for and trust explicitly.

Alfredson has good control of the camera, paces the action well and does some nice work with establishing the tone. Where it falters is the music. Composers Anders Niska and Klas Wahl both have television backgrounds and it shows. The generic score sounds like something from a police procedural and is detrimental to many key scenes where there should be no music at all. There is nothing worse than being convinced by a great performance but have it undermined by a lifeless, distracting score.

Blackway manages to take an old story and give it some life. While it starts with one story and ends with another, it works mostly because of the characters. A zinger at the end feels a little unearned, but still has impact, thanks to some smart direction and great performances. That’s a summary for the whole film actually.

‘Blackway’ (2016): Review

Movie description: A young woman returns to her hometown and unwillingly catches the attention of a local crime lord. She gets help from an old-timer logger to settle the score. But maybe it's not just she who wants revenge. It's Blackway.

Director(s): Daniel Alfredson

Actor(s): Julia Stiles, Alexander Ludwig, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Liotta, Hal Holbrook

  • Our Score
User Rating 3.2 (5 votes)
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One Response

  1. Anonymous September 20, 2016