Black Bird review: Creepy true crime drama with great performances


A terrifying cat-and-mouse chase between criminals is at the heart of this new streaming series.

When James Keene released his non-fiction memoir about his time in prison, a reporter wrote for the Buffalo News in the US that if he hadn’t known it was a true story, he would have rolled in front of the bland Hollywood scenes. plotline.

Keene was a low-level drug dealer who served 10 years in a minimum-security prison when he was presented with an offer from authorities to reduce his sentence.

If he accepted, he’d be transferred to a maximum-security facility, befriend a serial killer, get a confession from him, and the location of his victims’ bodies. And he had to do it quickly because the killer’s appeal ran through the courts.

If he refused, he would stay where he was to serve his full sentence with no chance of parole.

The scheme sounds like a Hollywood plot. So it’s no wonder that in Keene’s story, Hollywood saw the potential for a gripping and eerie miniseries about true crime.

More than six episodes, black bird stars Taron Edgerton as Keene and Paul Walter Hauser as Larry Hall, the alleged serial killer who was only convicted of kidnapping, though police suspected he had links to dozens of rapes and murders.

Edgerton and Hauser both play against the type, spinning in quieter, more subdued performances than the roles they are best known for.

Edgerton’s Keene is bursting with charisma, a young man from a privileged background who is used to doing things his way, to the point where, while in minimal security, he successfully set up a pornography lending program.

It’s that wit and confidence that made him a prime candidate for the Hall job, chosen for his perceived ability to charm and trick Hall into revealing his darkest secrets. He has a stubbornness that doesn’t feel extravagant.

Hall, with his signature sideburns, is childish and sheds an apparent naivety that belies the words he uses to describe what he has supposedly done to the victims. It’s a chilling juxtaposition that the series exploits.

The best scenes are the cat-and-mouse exchanges between Keene and Hall, who verbally dance around each other to see who will capitulate.

There is an odd structural choice in that the story jumps between the “present” of Keene’s mission and the investigation a few years earlier. The swings between the parallel storylines don’t necessarily have to resemble each other and given the visual similarities between the early 90s and mid 90s, if you look away for a moment it is not always immediately clear what period you are in.

Edgerton and Hauser’s performances, as well as Greg Kinnear and Ray Liotta (one of his last roles), are considered and compelling. Even if the series crashes, the performances are always watchable.

Created for streaming by Dennis Lehane (Gone baby goneMr MercedesShutter Island), the series has many of the hallmarks that made Lehane such a successful crime novelist and writer. There’s texture and patience in it black birda detailed world that slowly reveals itself.

Since it’s a real crime, there’s a foregone conclusion that knowing the ending can deflate the stakes. Best not to google what happened.

black bird is not a perfect series, but it is supported by a fascinating story, strong performances and a moody, disturbing atmosphere.

Black Bird is streaming on Apple TV+

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