Mark Reviews Movies

Black Butterfly


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brian Goodman

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo, Abel Ferrara

MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 5/26/17 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 25, 2017

The stranger insists on authenticity. A person with a knife to their throat doesn't scream and plead. The fear of imminent death is too great for such behavior. The shock of it freezes any sort of response. This level of detail gets one wondering how the stranger could possibly know this, unless he himself has had a knife pressed to his own throat. There's another reason why the stranger would know how a person likely will react to having a knife close to his or her throat, of course.

This is the sort of observation that a writer might want to hear for the sake of authenticity, but the stranger takes it beyond constructive criticism at a key point in Black Butterfly. The writer's reaction is as the stranger said it would be. His reaction after that point stretches one's belief in the movie's asserted search for authenticity, although his reactions to the stranger up until that point aren't much better.

It turns out that there's a reason why the writer behaves the way he does throughout the movie, but one has to wait until the first of its multiple twists to comprehend the rationale. That's part of the problem of a story that exists primarily to surprise us in the third act. It doesn't make much sense up until then, and once we do have an understanding of what was happening and why certain characters acted in the way that they did, suddenly things stop making sense in a different way.

The writer is named Paul (Antonio Banderas). He has been struggling for years. After writing his first book as a young man and having his first bestseller a few years after that, Paul nearly had a lucrative Hollywood deal to write an adaptation of one of his books. By the time his Tinseltown adventure was complete, he had lost the gig, while the movie ended up only sharing a title with the book.

Since then, Paul has lost his wife in a messy divorce, has taken up drinking, and needs to sell his ranch in Colorado because he can't keep up with the bills. He hasn't written a thing in years. He can't even keep the house presentable when Laura (Piper Perabo), the real estate agent, brings by prospective buyers.

While at a local diner, he gets into a scrap with a trucker whom he passed on the way there, but it's a stranger who finishes the fight. His name's Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and he has been walking for a while to see the country. To pay the stranger back for helping him, Paul offers him the ranch's guest room for the night. Jack thinks he can do some repairs around the house if he stays a bit longer. Plus, after hearing Paul's sad story, he offers to give him "the common man's" perspective on a new screenplay, which Jack insists that Paul should write. It's the story of the two of them.

Jack's ways are curious and become more intimidating as his stay progresses. There's little logic as to why Paul allows him to stay as long as he does and after displaying such bizarre behavior. It's even less convincing once Jack's criticism of the writer's work turns to violent displays of what real violence is like. To explain what essentially becomes Paul's imprisonment in his own home, Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley's screenplay (an adaptation of a French television movie from 2008 that never came to the U.S.) uses some of the usual thriller mainstays (such as the remote location and two early references to poor cellphone coverage).

The major thing preventing him from doing anything is that Jack is intimidating. He's also setting the terms of a deal that the two men made, although that deal seems to exist only in his head. Jack prevents Paul from drinking, but he also takes the writer's car key so that he can't go into town. Visitors are few but met with threats—against them and Paul—if the writer says anything about his present condition.

The story's additional tension comes from the inclusion of an unseen serial killer who has killed multiple women in the area. Jack seems like a reasonable suspect, especially after Paul checks his bag (A rude betrayal, according to Jack, ignoring what's in the backpack).

Director Brian Goodman establishes a fine air of menace beneath all of this, even if the particulars—of how this relationship gets as far as it does—aren't exactly clear. It's a game, played gamely enough by a frustrated, increasingly frightened Banderas and Meyers, who plays sinister just shy of being a generic villain.

What is generic, though, is the movie's extended climax, which unleashes all of the tension in violence. That's not entirely accurate, but to say any more would be reveal the second twist. The story is defined by these final revelations (which, in retrospect, are just a matter of guessing on a 50-50 shot to figure out), but by the time Black Butterfly reaches its ultimate one, which makes us question the entire point of any of this, it's definitively one too many.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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