Black Bird

By Joanna Langfield

The real marvel this weekend is watching Taron Egerton and Paul Walter Hauser lead a terrific chiller you won’t want to end.

Dennis Lehane, who knows his way around true crime stories, has adapted the memoir of a convict, tasked with coaxing a confession from a suspected serial killer. Maybe we see this undercover prison stuff a lot, maybe the parallel tale of a police procedural feels familiar, maybe the psychological underpinnings of it all do too, but rarely do we get the quality of this kind of storytelling. And it sure is a treat to watch it now.

Paul Walter Hauser, an established and superb character actor, takes on what must be the most challenging role of his career so far. His Larry Hall is a mystery, not just to the men and women trying to assure his guilt, but also to himself. Did he assault and murder a string of young girls? Even he may not know. But, thanks to some very beautifully calibrated writing and acting, we’re not so sure about Larry either. He’s a wierdo. He’s had a nightmare of a childhood. But could he have been falsely accused?

Every performance is streamlined and spot on, including Sepideh Moafi, Greg Kinnear and Ray Liotta, in one of this last filmed appearances. But, as good as Hauser is, and he is very, very good, his work wouldn’t work as well as it does without his partner in crime, Taron Egerton. Egerton’s Jimmy establishes himself as a bit of a hot dog, an egocentric player. But Jimmy’s got a story of his own. And the  quietly desperate urgency of his friendship with Larry engages us in the push pull of both men, echoing the teasing allure of other memorable cinematic bad guys, men we’ve been happy to love from afar through the ages. Bouncing from the goofy Kingsman to the surprisingly profound Rocketman (and don’t sleep on Eddie the Eagle, either), with this excellent dramatic turn, Egerton proves he can do it all. Aren’t we lucky to be able to watch him.