Writer Dennis Lehane's new true-crime drama Black Bird appears, at first, to revel in alpha masculinity.
When you meet the refined antihero Jimmy Keene, he's driving nice cars, he's negotiating violent drug deals and he's charming everyone from criminals to waitresses. He lives his life like a Martin Scorsese movie, narrated by a dark voiceover clearly inspired by Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street. And whether intentional or not, lead actor Taron Egerton (Kingsman, Rocketman) achieves a near-perfect Leo DiCaprio impression.
But after the FBI storms into Jimmy’s lavish apartment, the series shows its depth by peeling back that macho persona. And once Lehane kicks the plot into power, those honeyed words and infectious smiles start to lose their egotistical power.
Paul Walter Hauser and Taron Egerton as Larry Hall and Jimmy Keene. Photo: Apple
Jimmy is sentenced to 10 years, but the FBI agent Laura McCauley (a fierce, unbreakable Sepideh Moafi) offers him a dangerous deal. He's to enter a maximum-security prison, undercover, and befriend the suspected serial killer Larry Hall to find out where he buried his victims. Jimmy's current sentence would be erased as a result. He takes the deal, hiding his fear.
The enigmatic Larry Hall is played by a chilling, high-pitched Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya, Cruella) in a career-best performance. Larry and Jimmy build a rapport, their conversations unfolding gradually and quietly like the dark interrogations in Joe Penhall’s Mindhunter.
Their similarities show the wide spectrum of toxic masculinity, but it's their differences that discomfort the most – especially with regard to women. Although Jimmy sees most women in terms of sex, it’s nothing compared to Larry’s thoughts and desires as he treats underage girls with aggressive entitlement.
This critic would’ve appreciated a trigger warning for the sordid directions their dialogues take. They’re so implosively nauseating that you’ll need a long shower or a large glass of wine to cleanse yourself of Larry’s words. Despite being disgusting, they only add to the intensity of Jimmy’s plight as well as his crushing realisations of common ground.
Sepideh Moafi and Greg Kinnear as Lauren McCauley and Brian Miller. Photo: Apple
The series often and thankfully leaves the prison to follow the investigations by Lauren and local detective Brian Miller (an honourable Greg Kinnear). There are whiffs of True Detective season one as they drive through miles of empty countryside, trying to find clues.
At the start, their timeline flashes back and forward – a recent and slightly irritating trope in true-crime dramas – before quickly synching up. These scenes paint a picture of the wider world in which these murders were committed and unchecked, even after the killer confessed to the crime.
The late Ray Liotta, in one of his final and frailest roles, also stars as Jimmy’s father Big Jim Keene. So much sadness is carved into his weathered face and, considering his proto-DiCaprian performance in Goodfellas, he’s perfectly cast.
Ray Liotta as Big Jim Keene. Photo: Apple
Black Bird might’ve benefited from at least one female writer or director, but the horrific male toxicity in the series is constantly scrutinised and examined with a deep respect for the victims. As if responding to criticisms that TV is overpopulated with female corpses, Black Bird compromises by showing the bare minimum of the body that catalyses the investigation. It emphasises the person that used to be inside, leading to a poignant, humanistic goal.
Lehane has crafted a well-paced and gruesomely sinister true-crime drama that gives you necessary nightmares. It’s coming out week by week, so please watch it that way. Few would survive a binge-watch.
Black Bird starts on Friday 8 July on Apple TV+.
|What||Black Bird, Apple TV+ review|
08 Jul 22 – 08 Jul 23, ON APPLE TV+
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