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by Jack Sommersby

"A Solid Thriller"
4 stars

An unknown treasure worth seeking out.

Richard Widmark made an outstanding impression in his debut performance as the remorseless gangland killer in 1947's Kiss of Death which wound up earning him an Oscar nomination, and since then has played more than his share of villainous types (particularly in the medical thriller Coma), so it's easy to overlook the occasional good guys he's played, with his hero in the supernatural horror movie To the Devil a Daughter particularly noteworthy. Granted, Widmark isn't the most talented actor in the world, but he always manages to make an indelible impression no matter the circumstances - he registers with the utmost authenticity. So it's nice seeing him deliver a solid star performance in the effective cable-TV release Blackout playing Ohio homicide detective Joe Steiner who's called to a crime scene like no other consisting of a mother and her three young children bludgeoned to death by a baseball bat, with their corpses arranged post-mortem in the family basement with party hats still on their heads in celebration of the youngest child's fifth birthday. It knocks the seasoned Steiner for an absolute loop, and with nary any forensic evidence left behind and the husband nowhere to be located, the case is left unsolved. What he doesn't know but the audience is made privy to, a hitch-hiking man whose face we don't see is picked up on a Seattle highway, resulting in a fiery auto accident that leaves the driver dead and the survivor facially disfigured. In the hospital the man has no recollection of his past but, as his helpful doctors have maintained, there's no apparent physiological cause for this, and Steiner has been alerted the driver a possible suspect in that he resembles the physical description he's put over the wire even now that he's retired. Keith Carradine plays the crash victim, and plays him well in that we can never quite get a clear-cut reading on him - he comes across as innately good-natured but somewhat remote at the same time. After a year of reconstructive surgery he marries the nurse who helped bring him back to health, and we forward five years later where the two are happily married and Carradine's now-named Alan Devlin is the ace real-estate agent in the community, Steiner is alerted that Devlin might just be his man via anonymous letter, and makes his way to Washington state to check out the possibility. Decently scripted and directed, Blackout is atmospheric and suspenseful to start to finish, and though the plot won't exactly stand up to scrutiny it succeeds in enveloping us in its canny mind games in trying to determine whether Alan is who he says he is, with the wife's former lover the town's ranking officer who years after their break-up has over fifty photos of her taped to his bedroom wall, which comes into play when she starts getting unnerving threatening phone calls at home. Could Alan have a split-personality disorder not knowing what his twisted side is doing? And, mind you, his child's fifth birthday is coming up. Or is another party using Alan as a possible scapegoat knowing his unknown past can be played to his disadvantage? With the invaluable help of that stalwart of a cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and screenwriter David Ambrose's astute story structure, the movie is an involving psychological thriller that clings and sustains itself; it dares takes its time without employing cheap "Boo!" moments to rivet your attention - it's that rare motion picture that treats you like an adult without spelling out every single thing. And holding everything together is Widmark, who even at the age of seventy-one is effortlessly vivid on the screen. He gives Blackout an unfettered authenticity that makes the grade with honors.

Still no home-video release on disc yet, unfortunately.

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originally posted: 11/25/20 13:19:17
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  02-Mar-1985 (R)



Directed by
  Douglas Hickox

Written by
  David Ambrose

  Richard Widmark
  Keith Carradine
  Kathleen Quinlan
  Michael Beck

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