Blackout
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (22nd February 2008).
The Film

This 2007 feature was made by Black Entertainment Television (BET). The story takes place on Browser Street in east Flatbush (a neighborhood of Brooklyn), New York, on August 14, 2003. This was the day that a blackout plunged large swathes of New York City into darkness, as well as depriving people of transportation, security, and air conditioning during a sweltering summer night. Inspired by true events (i.e. the blackout) an ensemble cast tells four intertwined stories that occur over this period of about twenty-four hours.

The blackout is what Alfred Hitchcock called a 'MacGuffin', a thing or event that kicks the story off, but that isn't really important to the story itself. The stories told in "Blackout" don't require the blackout to exist; any number of other random events could influence the characters into the same direction that the blackout does. Therefore, the movie is not about the blackout itself per se, but about the lives of a dozen characters in New York.

During the first forty minutes of the film, we meet the cast. As the running time reaches a third of its total length, the big event happens, and the lights go out. There aren't really any engaging plots to speak of; the focus here is more on character interaction.

One story revolves around a couple on the verge of breaking up. The man had been an executive, but he lost his career after 9/11. He can't get back on track, and his girlfriend needs him to. The blackout brings them back together.

Another story is the reciprocal to the first one: a girl named Fatima (Susan Kelechi Watson) who thinks her relationship with her boyfriend is solid, discovers that her man is cheating on her. She dumps him and ends up with the local convenience store owner. Watson is one of the stronger talents in "Blackout.

Story number three is about a rich landlord who is about to fire his superintendent, an elderly man who can't do the job well anymore. Class and race both clash as the men spend a night in a sweltering apartment together. After discovering a mutual love of baseball, the men develop a better understanding of each other, and the landlord decides that it is all right to have his buildings falling apart, just a long as his janitor loves baseball.

Finally, a good hearted young man who works hard in a sporting goods store (so as to be able to honestly come by slick basketball jerseys and athletic shoes) is betrayed by his best friend, who leads a gang of looters to the store. A group of gangsta thugs gets involved on one side, and a friendly group of barbers (lead by Jeffrey Wright) ends up on the other side. This is the story with the most real plot and the most drama.

With the lights suddenly coming back on, the tales are wrapped up quickly, and are capped off by a voice over that sounds like it was performed by a third rate Tom Waits impersonator.

Video

"Blackout" is shot in that shaky, faux-documentary style, a method of camerawork that was due for retirement several years ago. The picture is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and is a bit gritty, but cinematographer Ben Wolf pulls off a few nice shots during some of the candle-lit scenes. Most of the film is rather dimly lit (as it takes place either outdoors at night, or in electricity-free interiors). Thus, given these difficult lighting conditions, there is a fair amount of film grain present, and contrast is rather low overall.

Audio

"Blackout" is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, with English subtitles. A lot of the audio is problematic location audio, recorded in fairly ambient environments. This makes dialogue indistinct in many places. Hasn't BET ever heard of ADR? Perhaps this isn't always for the worst; there is a lot of foul language in this movie. Is it realism, or a perpetuation of stereotypes? You be the judge, but this movie has more 'niggas', 'bitches' and 'muthafuckas' in the script than any movie about gangsta rappers might. This is surprising for something that attempts to be a character drama about real people, most of whom are presented as decent, intelligent, and hard working.

Extras

Paramount has included an interview, three featurettes, deleted scenes and a bonus trailer, below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a director interview with Jerry LaNothe that runs for 3 minutes 49 seconds; which is a brief interview with the director conducted by Uptown Movie Network about the film.

Next is a "Behind-the-Scenes Special" featurette that runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds; this clip features more interviews with LaNothe presented by Uptown Movie Network.

"Meet the Cast" is a featurette that runs for 7 minutes 28 seconds; Uptown Movie Network presents fly on the wall footage of the cast on the set saying hello to the camera.

"2003 Blackout: True Stories" is the final featurette which runs for 5 minutes 30 seconds and features interviews with real Brooklynites telling their blackout stories.

The disc also includes a series of deleted scenes that play in a reel running for 6 minutes 49 seconds; this montage of scenes are edited together and are not individually accessible or titled.

Rounding out the extras is a bonus trailer for:

- "Things We Lost in the Fire" which runs for 2 minutes 25 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: C Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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