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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Blackway is a dark drama with flashbacks of violence that are included to explain and justify violence throughout the present-day plot. A fearsome criminal is at the heart of drug-dealing, prostitution, a meth lab, stalking, sexual assault, and general threatening harassment. Shooting and vicious, bloody fights are shown. A beheaded cat is shown. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," and "hell." Old loggers talk about the old days, remembering isolated logging camps where cooped-up men used lard to grease knotholes in pine trees for sexual release.
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What's the story?
BLACKWAY, the movie's title character, is far worse than a simple town bully. He's presumably so scary that the local sheriff refuses to do anything about him. That's what Lillian (Julia Stiles) learns when she complains to the sheriff that Blackway (Ray Liotta) has sexually assaulted her, stalked and menaced her, and cut the head off her cat. She's just moved back to the logging country town of her youth, settling in the house her recently deceased mother left her. It's suggested that she's had a checkered past and is eager to stay in one stable place. So, when Blackway starts harassing her, she's disinclined to pack up and blow town just because a bully has her in his sights. Unwilling to take on Blackway, the sheriff suggests Lillian consult and enlist the aid of others who are equally aggrieved about the dangerous thug. On that quest, she runs into a bunch of logger-geezers, including Wizzer (Hal Holbrook) and Les (Anthony Hopkins). Wizzer tells her to leave town but Les volunteers to help her. He enlists young Nate (Alexander Ludwig), a stammering hunk who obeys Les like a respectful puppy. We learn that Les is still broken up by the death of his daughter and that Blackway has harassed and disrespected Les, too. For whatever reason, Les takes on Lillian's fight, and the three head off in Nate's pickup to find and neutralize Blackway. Along the way, they shoot a henchperson, burn down a meth lab, walk in on prostitutes, and hear harrowing stories of Blackway's unending cruelty and violence. The action culminates in a violent showdown.
Is it any good?
This 90-minute movie is strangely slow and lifeless, a puzzlingly one-note tale. Anthony Hopkins' participation in this odd venture inspires hope that things might improve, but Blackway could easily have been told in 30 minutes with no tension or plot points lost. This feels like some artist's attempt at vicarious revenge against the class hulk who bullied him in middle school -- a generic bad guy does generic bad guy things and then is punished. But questions abound: How is Blackway so unusually bad that the local sheriff can't get state police to come and shut down the guy's meth lab and prostitution ring? It makes no sense.
Other maddening moments include a scene in which a guy takes all the bullets out of his gun while waiting to ambush a psychopathic killer! It strains believability to watch tiny, white-haired Les with one shotgun in a canvas cover drive through the grim, wintry terrain with huffy Lillian and stammering Nate cramped together in a pickup's cab, stopping here and there to hear from every uncooperative source that going after Blackway is a bad idea. OK, we get the picture. Many people caution, "This ain't your fight" -- advice Les notably ignores. But we never really find out why. At no point do we learn definitively that Blackway was responsible for the death of Les' daughter, which would at least suggest a reason for Les' otherwise inexplicable eagerness to hunt down a sociopathic criminal on behalf of someone else's daughter. Blackway is simply painted as some universal evil that needs to be rubbed out, to the absurd degree that Liotta's makeup lends him a resemblance to the Frankenstein monster. Dialogue is also egregiously bizarre. "Can I use the bathroom?" Lillian asks Les at his house. "Do you want to take a bath?" he asks. She says no, so he replies, "You want the can?" She says yes. "Then say so," he tells her. This is one odd movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why revenge movies can sometimes seem satisfying. Blackway suggests that although murder is wrong, in some cases it's justified. Do you agree?
Why do you think Les agrees to help Lillian? Does the movie ever explain it or do you think the filmmakers want viewers to come up with their own reasons?
How does the way violence is used in this movie compare to its use in other movies about violent criminals? Do you think it's used effectively here, or do you think the violence feels sensational and unnecessary?
- In theaters: June 10, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: February 7, 2017
- Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Alexander Ludwig, Ray Liotta, Hal Holbrook
- Director: Daniel Alfredson
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for violence, menace, language and brief nudity
For kids who love thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.