Three years after seeing him in ‘Rocketman’ (and a little less hearing him in ‘Sing! 2’), Taron Egerton seems to completely change log with ‘locked up with the devil‘ (Black Bird), a new six-episode drama inspired by a true story that premieres today on Apple TV.
Specifically, the story is james kenewho published an autobiography in 2010 in which he recounted his time in prison and how he was offered a reduced sentence in exchange for befriending a serial killer in order to find out where he buried his victims.
Thus Egerton embodies Jimmy, once a promise of American football, who is convicted of drug trafficking and weapons possession. On the other hand, we have a superb Paul Walter Hauser (‘Richard Jewell’), whom we have recently seen especially in ‘Cobra Kai’, as Larry Hall, the alleged perpetrator of the dozen murders for which he is in jail.
The ambiguity of evil
And I say presumed because the script plays with a certain ambiguity. With that question that doesn’t let us sleep at night about whether he is really a sociopath, a criminal mind or just someone innocent with shortcomings and wanting to feel important. The interpretation of Paul Walter Hauser plays in favor of it: he is uncomfortable with his cadence when speaking, with his silences and with his gestures.
That also leads us to another theme that the series explores, that possibility that he could really be innocent and that seeing the ideal suspect, who checks several boxes of all criminal profiles but with a not entirely reliable confession, the judgment of the police and prosecutor has been clouded in order to close a pressing case.
Note the hand Dennis Lehane As developer of the adaptation, the novelist (who has been a screenwriter for ‘The Visitor’ among others) works very well the nuances and chiaroscuro of both characters and also those of the police investigation in a superb and completely absorbing narrative.
Yes, it is true that not everything works. Even Jimmy’s introduction (perhaps more so his arrest) doesn’t go as smoothly (I find it even a bit clumsy) as desirable, perhaps for wanting to make the personality of the protagonist clearer than the action itself. Little by little we also explore the life of one of the young victims and they also fail to give these sequences enough punch.
A cast that elevates the script
It might be for comparison, because of course the series where it shines is, above all, in the exchanges with Larry Hall. Both in the police investigation (led by Greg Kinnear) and those moments with Jimmy trying to get to know him little by little and get information from him. This is where the impressive cast pulls it off in a miniseries that, while compelling, is somewhat lopsided as a prison thriller.
The problem comes, above all, from this sale of what is basically a false arc of redemption of a person too full of himself. Egerton’s character is far less nuanced and far less interesting than the series makes out. For example, the complicated and harmful relationship with her father (Ray Liotta in his last role) is explored, the father figure is much more interesting than the protagonist.
It is not the first time that the secondary characters are more fascinating than the protagonist himself, and in this case this is very much in favor of ‘Locked up with the devil’. In short, we find ourselves with a superb prison drama that, despite certain shortcomings and tiptoeing through aspects, he manages to absorb with his story.