Review: Blackbird – A masterful tale of teens looking for their place in the world

Be warned, minor spoilers below about the film and its plot.

Independent projects have always been a favorite of mine and I’ve always loved films that were disliked or ignored by mainstream media. Blackbird is an exception where both mainstream and indie lovers both enjoy the film. Blackbird is one of a small breed of transcending indie projects that anyone who watches cannot help but enjoy and leave emotionally drained in some fashion. The films story is simple enough, exploring the dangers of social and its part in cyber-bullying. The lead character Sean Randall is played by Connor Jessup (Falling Skies).

The film starts out fast putting us square in Seans life as he is arrested for a crime he hasn’t committed. We spend a good deal of time in the juvenile detention center with Sean where we meet his enemy, Trevor played by Alex Ozerov. Throughout the film, Jason Buxton attempts to give us mini flash backs at Seans life, giving us an idea of what this gothic dressing teen is all about. As we find out more about him, we try to feel for him but there is something stopping us, the way he looks.

Nobody may admit it, but the townspeople in the story and all of the viewers are doing the same thing, taking one look at Sean and how he dresses and immediately saying I don’t feel bad for him. This type of stereotypical profiling of teens, combined with the power of social media create a dangerous mix for our teens and the justice system. Jason does an amazing job balancing Sean and Trevors interactions to be a mix of pacifism and rage. As the story goes on, we see different sides to both teens that leave many wondering, as the film slogan says, “if the worst prison is the one we make for ourselves”.

Both Connor Jessup and Alex Ozerov provide a commanding performance for young teens on the screen regarding a very adult subject. At times the awkward silence and replies to each other have you wondering if you not watching a flashback to your own days face to face with a school bully. Connor is no stranger to film, having over 50 TV episodes under his belt and a producing credit for another indie project he directed called Amy George. Currently Connor plays Ben Mason on the hit TNT alien drama Falling Skies. Alex has several indie project credits to his name, with at least 3 more coming in the near future. Both actors have a strong future ahead of them.

Take away legal consequences for Seans actions and the way he dresses and we have a complex family and friend relationship with his father Rick played by Michael Buie and his friend Deanna played by Alexia Fast. Sean has a very disconnected relationship with his father and for all purposes, was abandoned by his mother. His family distanced themselves rather than sticking close to him while he rebelled and dressed gothic. Deanna is Seans forbidden fruit, the one thing that actually helps ground Sean into a normal relationship for once in his life. The situation surrounding his arrest and everyone involved makes his relationship with Deanna a balancing act that threatens his very life.

Jason Buxton also paints a very broad picture of the role social media and cyber-bullying play in an unfair justice system. Bullying is not a new thing, but the internet has allowed this to continue far beyond the school grounds and to a much larger group. To add a little bit of personal story to this topic, I was the kid who sat alone in high school. I didn’t have friends and the only group who took me in were the goths who hung out in the corner of the lunch room. I was bullied all through grade school and high school. You name it, stuffed in a locker, beaten up and publicly humiliated. Hanging out with the goths also got you branded as a psychopath. That small group of goths were actually very normal people who just express their pain or personality in a more public fashion than most. Watching Sean when he couldn’t shoot the deer, and the fear in his eyes and voice while trying to get out of lock up was heart breaking. Connor Jessup truly pulled of an authentic, tortured soul who deep down inside was a very lovable and likable person.

The hysteria that the public puts out there from reading what would normally be in a private journal throws the justice system into the mix which is broken at best. In the justice system, now with social media, what you say  could land you in jail even if it was just you expressing your feelings and not action. The days of writing in our personal diaries has become publicly posting about our feelings and it results in paranoia and rash actions by the public that result in wrongful accusations. To complicate that even further, the justice system seems to reward you for admitting guilt in order to let you free, rather than seek the truth. You cannot blame Sean for admitting it even though he knew deep down he never would do such a thing, simply to be free. But was he free?

This film is a must see for everyone. It’s a very straight forward story but the directing, camera work, subtle dialog between Connor and Alex and their acting skills that lead to an unforgettable performance. Blackbird has won many awards including Best Canadian First Feature Film at TIFF 2012, Best Director for Jason Buxton at The Atlantic Film Festival (AFF), Best Screenplay at AFF, Best Feature at AFF and a Rising Star award for Connor Jessup. The film is due to be released in the Spring. Be sure to check back with us for dates and locations once its released.

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