What you can't see can kill you.
Hollywood has been churning out thrillers for nearly a century now. After that length of time, it's unquestionably a challenge for filmmakers to devise new and interesting things to do with the genre. If nothing else could be said for it, Blink takes a sincere whack at introducing a novel thriller concept—a blind woman's sight is restored just in time for her to become the only witness to a murder.
Unfortunately, as the Good Book says, when the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a ditch. At least, their movie will.
Facts of the Case
Twenty years ago, eight-year-old Emma Brody's mother smashed the little girl's face into a bathroom mirror for the minor infraction of having a field day in Mom's makeup drawer. Today, Emma (Madeleine Stowe, before her career plunged headlong into throwaway effluvia like Avenging Angelo and Impostor) is an independent, self-assured woman who plays violin in a popular Celtic folk band in Chicago. Emma lives life on her own terms, only without sight—the tragic legacy of the traumatic injuries to her eyes at the hands of her mother.
Luckily for Emma, medical science has vaulted a quantum leap in the past two decades. Now, thanks to corneal implants installed by her kindly ophthalmologic surgeon, Dr. Pierce (Peter Friedman, Single White Female), Emma can see again, albeit with variable clarity as her brain readjusts to interpreting optic input. In fact, she occasionally experiences a phenomenon of delayed vision—she will see something, but her mind does not fully register the image until hours, even days, afterward.
This bizarre circumstance presents a conundrum when Emma sees a suspicious man leaving her neighbor's apartment at 4AM, but his features appear to her only in flashback later that morning. After failing to get a response at the neighbor's door, Emma tries to convince the police—specifically abrasive detective John Hallstrom (Aidan Quinn, Practical Magic, In Dreams) and his partner Tom Ridgely (James Remar, as underused here as in 2 Fast 2 Furious)—to check things out. At first Hallstrom dismisses Emma as a nutcase, but when the cops finally arrive on the scene, they find Emma's neighbor murdered using the same modus operandi as a series of killings Hallstrom and Ridgely are already investigating.
Quickly it becomes apparent that Emma herself is in danger, as she is the only person alive who can identify the rampaging murderer. Hallstrom becomes her de facto bodyguard, and the more time the two strong personalities spend in each other's company, the more they are drawn to one another romantically. But their romance may be doomed—and Emma along with it—if the mysterious slasher makes a return visit to eliminate the police's key witness.
As noted in our introduction, if a clever idea is worth anything, the creators of Blink get a gold star. Clever ideas, however, are a dime a dozen. Having plucked such a flash of inspiration from the troposphere, one must then figure out where best to run with it. On this score, Blink stumbles from gold to bronze, at best. The screenplay by Dana Stevens (City of Angels, Life or Something Like It) is chock-full of nifty concepts, but muddles the execution.
Whereas Blink begins as clever—the newly-sighted former blind woman as the sole witness to a murder—it quickly devolves into ludicrous, starting with Emma's delayed-vision and hallucinations, then continuing into the contrived coincidence that brings Emma and Detective Hallstrom together (in the film's opening scene, Hallstrom tries to attract Emma's attention as she's performing onstage by doing a partial striptease, not knowing that she's blind and can't see him—and of course, when she arrives at the police station days later to report the malfeasance in her apartment building, guess who's the detective on duty?) and into a transparent and unnecessary red herring I'll cover with more specificity in "The Rebuttal Witnesses" below.
Another problem lies in the fact that the conceit of the film is never very convincing. Madeleine Stowe is a decent actress, and this is probably as solid a piece of work as she's done, but I never believed for a second that she was—or had been—blind. This is less the fault of the actress, who, as I say, plays her part capably enough, than of director Michael Apted, who ignores the little details of a sightless person's life that would make Stowe's portrayal more credible. A few examples:
• When Emma comes home from her corneal transplants, she
illuminates her apartment with candlelight, because harsh incandescent lighting
hurts her still-healing eyes. Question: Why does a blind woman own this many
Apted is a competent director who demonstrates inconsistent—and sometimes appalling—taste in scripts. When he chooses well, he makes fine, entertaining films (Coal Miner's Daughter, Continental Divide, and more recently, Enigma and The World is Not Enough, my favorite of Pierce Brosnan's Bond efforts). When he chooses unwisely (can you say Enough, boys and girls? Nell? Thunderheart, perhaps?), he lacks the stylistic flair to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. Blink is somewhere in the middle—a promising but flawed screenplay—and Apted fails to lend any real novelty or excitement to it.
The director isn't helped by the fact that his casting department landed as his male lead one of the least appealing actors in modern cinema, Aidan Quinn. It's bad enough that Quinn's Detective Hallstrom is written as a boorish, misogynistic lout with all the charm and forward-thinking worldview of Andrew "Dice" Clay (hey, there's an idea—the Diceman would at least have made this character interesting), but Quinn infuses his portrayal with so little enthusiasm that it strains our willing suspension of disbelief to think that a smart, talented, autonomous woman like Emma would fall head over heels for this unpleasant lowlife.
Apted does make effective use of a variety of visual techniques designed to help the viewer appreciate Emma's evolving eyesight from the character's perspective. The sequences that show her first glimpses in twenty years of the world around her are strikingly realistic and oddly poetic. It's unfortunate that this reawakening didn't remain the focus of the story, instead of another overdone serial killer-stalks-defenseless babe potboiler. But one can't have everything.
As a neo-noir exercise in mystery and suspense, Blink rates about average. It swings like a pendulum from preposterous to pedestrian and back again, but moves ahead at a steady pace and manages to engage the viewer's attention most of the time—the exception being its extended dalliance in softcore romantic melodrama in the middle act. Madeleine Stowe's Emma is an intriguing character who manages to avoid wallowing in rote damsel-in-distress paranoia, and strives to fend for herself at every turn, right up to the picture's bizarre and somewhat silly conclusion. Her love jones for the dullard cop never resonates with reality, nor does her transition from blindness to undependably functioning sight, but she's a worthy heroine in the midst of this game but faltering film.
Apparently wanting to do little more with Blink than check the title off its unreleased-on-DVD list, New Line gives us an uncharacteristically Spartan release of this minor back-catalog flick. For your hard-earned coin, you'll get dueling transfers—anamorphic 2.35:1 (despite a cover notation that indicates it's only 1.85:1) competes with made-for-the-intransigent pan-and-scan. The widescreen version is good, but not great, lacking definition in several spots and having an overall murky visual quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, on the other hand, is bright, full, and surprisingly active and enveloping for a relatively low-key movie. The scenes in which the Drovers (the Irish folk band in which Emma plays, and whose evocative music forms the foundation of the score) perform vibrate with life, and are more realistically recorded than many actual concert films I've endured.
A batch of trailers—the theatrical preview of Blink, and a play-though string of ads for New Line releases Heaven's Prisoners, The Lawnmower Man 2, and Excessive Force—constitute the only in-player supplements. Popping the disc into your DVD-ROM drive will net you access to New Line's website (not that you couldn't get there by yourself, but it's my job to tell you what's here) and a "Hot Spot" with promotional content for other New Line films. As I write this, the "Hot Spot" is plugging the upcoming DVD release of Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, but it appears that New Line intends to rotate this content as fresh product rolls off the DVD assembly line. Enjoy at your leisure.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In handing down the Verdict on the Clint Eastwood thriller Tightrope, I lambasted director Richard Tuggle for the inane blunder of revealing his villain's identity to the camera early in the film, then wasting much of the rest of the movie trying to convince the audience that someone else (namely, the Clint Eastwood character) was guilty of the crimes, as though we'd never witnessed that opening scene and seen the killer's face already.
The makers of Blink commit the same stupid offense. We see the killer—in delayed fashion, due to Emma's still-recovering optical senses, but full-face, in close-up, with crystal clarity, and more than once—fairly early in the movie. But director Michael Apted and screenwriter Dana Stevens apparently believe that we collectively stepped out for popcorn during that scene, because they throw a fusillade of clues at us during the body of the flick that point to another character as the guilty party. What—do they think we're blind, too?
Apted and Stevens are without excuse, inasmuch as Tightrope was released ten years before Blink, giving these two ample time to learn from others' mistakes. I can only ask, in the immortal words of Mr. Arnold Hand, "What are you people…on dope?"
A gallant attempt at neo-noir suspense that gets bogged down under the weight of its own pretentious complexity and half-baked script. "A" for effort. "C" for results.
The Court finds Blink guilty of being blind to its own shortcomings. The Judge sentences it to fifty hours of community service, collecting donated eyeglasses for the Chicagoland chapter of the Lions Club. We're in recess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Theatrical Trailer
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