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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.11.12] Canada drama

Blackbird begins where so many other teen dramas begin. We have a troubled teen recently moved from the big city to a small town. In the city he had counterparts but in a little town where hockey is the town sport and the players superstars, the black-clad, heavy metal listening Sean Randall stands out. His mother and step father have shipped him off to live with his father and Sean isn't settling in particularly well. The kids pick-on him, he has few friends and he spends a great deal of time writing stories on his blog but he seems to be staying afloat until a series of mistakes and teen bravado lead to Sean's incarceration for planning a Columbine-style massacre.

So far the story looks and sounds typical but Blackbird steers clear of most cliches, and from the moment of Sean's incarceration writer/director Jason Buxton breaks away from expectation and develops a tale that is more complex than many of its counterparts. Sean's jail stint is only the beginning of his journey and for the second half of the movie, we watch him struggle to break away from preperceptions. He's been marked and though some believe his innocence, a large part of the townsfolk are still suspicious and even those who know Sean is harmless take advantage of public perception to further injure the teen.

Buxton takes much of what's been associated with troubled teen behaviour and connects it to a young man who is simply expressing his individuality in a place where being different is unacceptable. It's not a new approach but Buxton's dialogue feels naturally awkward and Sean's interactions with Deanna, the girl he's crushing on, feel remarkably authentic. In part the success should be attributed to the writing itself but much of it is also left to Connor Jessup in the role of Sean. The young actor has shown promise in his television appearances but here he emerges as a talented actor with depth. His character transitions from quietly uncomfortable, a smart and angry introvert who feels victimized by his peers to a strong individual who refuses to cower and hide. He chooses to fight his way through the system rather than take the easy way out, in the process not only defying expectation but arising as an individual willing to stand up for the truth.

Stephanie Anne Weber Biron's cinematography brings the coldness of winter into every corner of Blackbird alienating the characters, particularly Sean, even further but the young actor isn't the only one going through a tough change. Sean's father Ricky finds himself outcast for supporting his son while Deanna is fighting her parents for control of her life. Though both characters are on the outskirts of Sean's life, Buxton gives both, along with a collection of others, enough room to grow and breathe. The best example is Trevor, Sean's jail tormentor who, in a collection of scenes, emerges as a complex individual himself; he's not only a parallel of Sean's personal growth but also as a memorable character all his own.

Blackbird is another great entry into the roster of troubled teen tales. The genre is already pretty crowded but Canadians tend to bring a unique voice to the mix, one that often feels more realistic than the Hollywood offerings and such is the case with Blackbird which presents a surprisingly complex tale of individuality and coming of age while exploring ideas of preconception and small town mentality. Not only is Blackbird a great achievement for Buxton but for Jessup whose performance stands out in a movie full of solid performances.

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