Review by Dan Skip Allen
Films or shows based on true stories are always intriguing to me. However, stories I haven't heard about are hit and miss. Black Bird has an interesting premise, and the two people headlining this show — author Dennis Lehane as the screenwriter and Taron Egerton (Rocketman, Sing) as the lead actor — are two people I like from their previous work. Add in the true-crime aspect, and I'm hooked on this show. Plus, given that this is the last major project for Ray Liotta, I think this is a show that deserves my attention.
James Keene (Taron Egerton) is a young drug dealer in Chicago in the '90s. He's living high on life until he gets caught by the DEA. He makes a plea deal that doesn't necessarily go his way, so he ends up in prison for ten years. While this storyline is going on, another storyline parallels that: Brian Miller (Greg Kinnear) and Lauren McCauley (Sepidah Moafi) are investigating a series of murders in Indiana and Illinois of a bunch of girls. Their main suspect is a local reenactor Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), who drives around in a van.
When the investigators come to offer Egerton's character an opportunity to get out of his ten-year sentence, he has to think about it. It's not an easy decision for him, but his sick father (Ray Liotta) weighs on his mind. The deal is pretty straightforward: get a confession of where he buried some of his victims, and he'll be able to get out of his jail sentence scot-free. This is easier said than done, though, because he has to enter a maximum-security prison where everybody is clinically insane and will try to kill him at the drop of a hat.
This show ramps up the tension quite a bit from the very beginning. The whole prison aspect of the show leads to some pretty intense situations for the Edgerton character. His encounters with Walter Hauser's character aside, he has to deal with gangsters, neo-nazis, and various guards trying to exploit his past life to their advantage. Egerton handles everything like a true professional, though. This is quite different from his most famous role as Sir Elton John.
The Walter Hauser character is very creepy in the series. He embodies what it means to be a true psychopath with his odd and weird demeanor. He and Egerton have a very tough game of cat and mouse throughout the show. Trying not to give away your secret to a guy who plays games with law enforcement just for the fun of it isn't the best way to do your prison sentence. Egerton plays it cool and collected throughout the entire show. He even uses his manly ways to try to attract the female agent involved in his case.
This show as a whole has five very strong performances from its four leads and Ray Liotta. This is the last project from Liotta in his career. He recently passed away. It's good that he is going out on a high, playing Egerton's character's father. He has his own demons and didn't want his son to fall into the same bad habits as he did. Well, that's a little too late now since he's in prison for selling drugs and owning illegal firearms. Their relationship is pretty strong in the show, and it's sad how all of this transpired, considering what we know of Liotta now.
There is a mystery in this show that levels all the great films that deal with murder mysteries like Se7en and Zodiac. This show had a vibe of a David Fincher film. I think that's what the draw was for Lehane, Egerton, and company. This is very strong material, and the true story makes it even better. Everybody watching this show on Apple TV+ is in the same boat: nobody knows what will happen. That's a good thing with any show or film involving a murder mystery like this one.
Black Bird gives audiences another crime story with a different perspective. Paul Walter Hauser is as creepy and weird as he's ever been in his career before. He embodies this man who plays games with everyone who interacts with him. It's all part of the role, though, and he's terrific. Taron Egerton sheds his singing chops for a meaty dramatic role. He embraces the machismo of his character but leans into the subtle aspect he needs to get his point across in the series. Dennis Lehane knows the crime genre through and through, and he does a great job using everything at his disposal to make this story thrilling and informative to the viewer. Apple TV+ has another hit on its hands. This show was right up my alley.
Black Bird streams on Apple TV+ beginning July 8. All six episodes reviewed.