A mildly engaging study of misogyny that turns men into monsters-Opinion News, Firstpost

Black Bird, now streaming on Apple TV+, is the latest example of a show in desperate need of a haircut.

One of the lingering problems with many miniseries these days is that they feel like bloated feature films for free. Why? Because selling them to picky movie studios may have been harder than selling them to easy-to-please streamers. Nevertheless, in the age of prestige television, creators still have great cinematic ambitions. In keeping with these ambitions, they complete episodes which are expected to run around 40 odd minutes to an hour or more. The final example of a show in desperate need of a haircut is Black birdNow streaming on Apple TV+.

What could have been a neat two-hour crime drama is instead a six-hour miniseries. Dennis Lehane, whose novels (the mystical river, shutter island, Gone, baby, gone) have been adapted into acclaimed films in the recent past, now adapting Jimmy Keene’s prison memoir Enter with the devil in a moderately engaging cat-and-mouse tale of two criminals. One is Keene himself, played by Taron Egerton, who is fresh off his role as Golden Globe winner Elton John in the musical biopic Rocketman. Keene is once a football star and now a convicted drug dealer who has been issued a release from prison card. Terms and conditions do apply. In exchange, he must use his disarming charms to obtain a confession from the alleged serial killer Larry Hill, played by Paul Walter Hauser. As Jimmy tries to befriend Larry in their maximum security prison in order to get him to talk about the murders and the location of the buried bodies, local detective Brian Miller (Greg Kinnear) and FBI agent Lauren McCauley (Sepideh Moafi) are looking for evidence on the outside so Larry won’t be released on appeal.

What confuses detectives and viewers is: if Larry is a single offender with a pathological desire for notoriety that being a serial offender brings, if he is an intellectually disabled man whose fuzzy understanding of reality makes him unable to separate it from dreams, or whether he is a serial confessor, a cunning one to boot, mixing truth and lies to cover his tracks to such a degree that the investigators themselves do not know if he is a murderer to begin with. The tension lies in the confusion, employed for calculating purposes by Hauser as Larry, whose silence alone speaks volumes.

Over the course of six long episodes, the fragmented narrative between Jimmy-Larry bonding sessions and Brian-Lauren’s investigation often ends up becoming entangled. The unhurried pacing not only robs the story of its urgency, but also weakens the precarious dynamics at play in a contrasting study of what makes criminals. In the most revealing conversations between Jimmy and Larry, we get a portrait of their different upbringings. Jimmy was the son of a cop (a still thrilling Ray Liotta in one of his later roles) and grew up in a suburban home. Larry was the son of a gravedigger and grew up next to a cemetery. Jimmy’s father was the kind of man who had time to play wrestling with his son even after working a 12-hour shift. Larry’s father was the kind of man who enlisted his son to steal the jewelry of the people he was burying.

Black bird

Indeed, Jimmy grew up around a different kind of domestic issues with two parents who argued all the time. He was destined to become a football star before everything went wrong. After being arrested for selling cocaine and possessing illegal firearms, he was sentenced to 10 years without the possibility of parole. A few months into the sentence, Lauren and the district attorney offer him a chance to get out much sooner if he can get Larry to tell the truth and be convicted on more murder charges. To do this, Jimmy must move to a maximum security prison where Larry is set to be released on appeal. If Jimmy reluctantly agrees, the show suggests it’s less because of Good Samaritan intentions, more because of his concern for the health of his father who suffered a stroke. Why Jimmy is chosen because they believe he has the outgoing personality that can earn Larry’s trust without too much hassle. While Egerton effectively conveys Jimmy’s arrogance, he can’t quite sell us on his supposed soft-spoken charms.

Although the entire FBI has one body, they have reason to believe Larry may be behind as many as 14 murders of young girls across the Midwest. Long before his arrest for the murder of a 15-year-old girl, Larry had already earned a reputation as a serial confessor so much that the local police department refused to believe he had committed any murders in the first place. They claim he’s just a harmless oddball with a love for Civil War re-enactments and burnsides (not favorites, he insists). His twin brother claims Larry was coerced into a false confession, a scene the show frames with measured ambivalence.

Black Bird review A moderately engaging study of the misogyny that turns men into monsters

Black bird

Beneath Larry’s soft-spoken demeanor lies an incel-like resentment that manifests in the most nauseating confessions he makes to Jimmy. Hauser expresses the deep-rooted disgust of a dissatisfied man who feels entitled to sex as if it were a basic human right denied to him by women. It’s a disturbing performance that strikes a delicate balance between casual misogyny and conscious inscrutability. While he obviously doesn’t identify as an incel (that’s a very 21st-century term), the repugnant ideology becomes clear in the way he talks about women. In the penultimate episode, the series attempts to give voice to the victim by having her character describe the life she enjoyed before Larry stole her future. But it feels like an afterthought, a retrospective step taken to counter potential accusations of treating an actual victim like another dead girl in a true crime spree.

Watch the trailer here:

The more Jimmy and Larry talk, the more Jimmy becomes convinced that Larry is a killer. The role of playing the soundboard and going through each day in such darkness weighs on Jimmy, who is forced to engage in conversation in Larry’s locker room and maintain a straight face to get him to talk. After a particularly disturbing conversation where Larry reveals horrifying details about how he killed a young girl, he returns to his cell and cries in shock. The problem for Jimmy is twofold: collecting key details that only a killer can know, and determining the location of other victims’ bodies. Complicating matters is whether Larry is telling the truth or not. With the camera fixed on the two in these long conversations, the viewer sits in anticipation, waiting for Larry to slip and drop his facade. When he does, the feeling is less relief, more horror.

The first two episodes of Black Bird release on Apple TV+ on July 8, with a new episode to follow every Friday.

Prahlad Srihari is a film and music writer based in Bengaluru.

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