Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Black Butterfly (2017)

Director: Brian Goodman
Notable Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo, Abel Ferrara, Vincent Riotta, Nathalie Rapti Gomez, Randall Paul, Katie McGovern

Pairing up Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is this weird thing that I never expected and was somewhat excited to see. The initial trailers for Black Butterfly seemed to indicate that the film would end up being a more mundane thriller, relying on some kind of twist to carry the film more than anything else, but the powerhouse screen devouring talents of the two leads should make the film worth the watch. Fortunately and unfortunately, both of the above assumptions based on the trailer were somewhat true. Black Butterfly is carried by two fantastic performances that continually attempt to top the other, but it’s also a film that spends a lot of time being an above average, but not great, thriller that ultimately relies on a few key moments to hook the audience into its narrative.

Two stars, one movie. Who will reign?
Black Butterfly is also a film that attempts to do too little with what it has until it’s too late. It opens with too much generic backstory as it follows an alcoholic writer, Antonio Banderas, down on his luck trying to survive as his life is spiraling down the drain. He meets a hitchhiker, the intense and always too good for the movies he is in Meyers, and their strange relationship continually builds tension as Banderas’ writer Paul becomes a prisoner of his own house. The concept, for all intents and purposes, is about as thriller 101 as it gets in the narrative for the first half of the film and it’s only when Meyers’ Jack, the intense hitchhiker villain, relays the information that this story will be the next screenplay that Jack will write that it injects the concept that Black Butterfly will, in the first twist, be a deconstructed meta film of the usual thriller. At this point, the basic backstories make sense. The film could easily go the route of Behind the Mask and deliver a film that analyzes the needs of the tropes while at the same time giving an almost satirical lens to them at the same time. It could have gone that way. Could have. Yet, outside of one fantastic twist in the third act, and then a second completely unnecessary and eye rolling twist to top it off, Black Butterfly never digs into that concept. It plays it straighter than it should and the film that Black Butterfly could have been, dissolves in front of the viewer into the lesser film that Black Butterfly is.

To its credit, Black Butterfly is able to carry the weight of its own conceptional burden through its casting. There are moments in the script that could have easily come off as completely self-indulgent and pompous as the two characters square off in isolation. Some monologues and intense sequences, including a scene where Jack wakes up Paul with a knife to his throat to show him how his characters in the screenplay would realistically react, should have fallen to the wayside. Both Banderas and Meyers sell the living hell out of it though. In particular, Banderas is bringing his A-game with wickedly fast changing range for his character that owns the meta-conceptional themes and often forced plot progression moments as if they are the heart of the film. Seeing them, sparking with chemistry on the screen, is reason enough to see Black Butterfly. Fans of either actor will appreciate the intensity and dedication they bring to what amounts to a middle of the road thriller.

Ankles, a "running for your life" scene's worst enemy.
Black Butterfly still remains disappointing. As I continue to chew on the film mentally, after the twists are revealed and the credits roll, the more it seems like the film was on the cusp of a fantastic piece of cult cinema and failed to reach it. It has its grand moments, moments where one can see the film start to touch on what it could have been, but the whole is lesser than those pieces. Black Butterfly will still see itself garner a dedicated cult fanbase over time, particularly when it comes to the performances of the leads as a central point, but it remains a film to pass the time on a lazy weekend rather than one to immediately see. Perhaps it will grow with time, but for now the score stands. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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