Directed by Jerry LaMothe
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 95 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 22.99
Release Date: February 5, 2008
Review Date: January 28, 2008
The harrowing two day ordeal that put a Brooklyn neighborhood into crisis mode and yet went largely unreported in any media is recounted erratically in Jerry LaMothe’s Blackout. Featuring a mixture of both effective and rather amateurish performances and obviously made on a small budget, the film nevertheless draws one into the drama of the situation, and its relatively brief running time seems more than adequate to handle the number of personalities that we’re introduced to during the course of the storytelling.
In the early going, we view a cross section of the East Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn on the day of the great blackout of 2003. Before the disaster hits, we see Fatima (Susan Kelechi Watson) being deceived by her boy friend with the upstairs neighbor, James (Sean Blakemore) and Claudine (Zoe Saldana) having relationship woes due to his lengthy period of unemployment following 9/11, Nelson (Jeffrey Wright) running his barber shop as usual with little help from the motor mouth “L” (Omar Sharif Scroggins), C.J. (Michael B Jordan ) off to work at a sports gear store earning some summer money before heading off to college in the fall on a full academic scholarship, and aging super George (Melvin Van Peebles) being threatened with firing by white landlord Sol (Saul Rubinek) for not getting building repairs done in a timely fashion.
The power outage occurs at 4:16 p.m., and almost immediately the neighborhood is under siege by vandals. Looting in broad daylight is the order of the day while law abiding citizens duck for cover or attempt to keep out the vandals as best they can. As darkness takes over, so too does crime in the streets increase as lives are in jeopardy and even people behind closed doors become fearful of every sound. Writer-director LaMothe keeps his camera on the faces etched in fear as the neighborhood becomes a war zone, life and death sometimes mere inches apart (as in the film‘s most striking sequence as a son‘s blood drains out of him mere inches away from his mother waiting behind a closed, locked door). The next morning, violence and intimidation by neighborhood toughs continues as the residents survey the catastrophe while hearing about the peaceful night most New Yorkers spent the previous evening without power.
LaMothe stages some moments quite vividly, especially a late confrontation between toughs and a neighborhood watch determined not to let the bad guys get the best of the neighborhood. He seems less secure in getting forceful performances from all of his cast. Obviously Tony and Emmy winner Jeffrey Wright holds firm command of his character though in truth, Wright (who also produced the film) has himself a fairly dull part apart from one scene. More involving are two excellent actresses Susan Kelechi Watson and Zoe Saldana as almost earth mothers of the neighborhood. Watson in particular is forceful in her condemnation of her neighbors once daylight comes and she sees the disaster area that her street has become. Another very moving performance is turned in by LaTanya Richardson whose innocent son is killed during the preceding night’s violence. Her shaking, uncontrollable emotions seem heartbreakingly real. A real pity that more wasn’t found for her to do in the movie. The evening that George and Sol spend together bonding over baseball is likewise memorable.
LaMothe rather overuses the wise street sage Toothless Tone (Anthony Chisholm) babbling throughout the movie about the wages of sin. The actor does what he can with a hopelessly overwritten part, but it inevitably defeats him. We see the results of selfishness and dishonesty without having these prophetic words flung in our faces constantly. Omar Sharif Scroggins as "L" and Johnny Solo as tagalong Anthony don’t really contribute much to the proceedings either.
The 1.78:1 aspect ratio of the film has been given an anamorphically enhanced transfer for this DVD release. The picture is mostly sharp and clean though some stock footage edited into the newly filmed portions looks terrible and doesn’t mesh at all with the new material. Blacks are of more than adequate depth, and shadow detail is also very nice. The film has been divided into 9 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is adequate at best. The actual sound recording on location is spotty, so voices coming from the center channel sometimes have a muffled quality. Very little is done with the rears apart from some music filtered into them. The sounds of ambulances and police cars in the rears which could have been made effective use of later in the picture simply aren’t utilized to any extent.
Almost all of the special features were produced to be shown on BET’s Uptown Movie Network series.
Director Jerry LaMothe participates in a 3½-minute interview in which he discusses his early years in the business, his gratitude to directors Robert Townsend and Bill Duke, and his previous film work. It’s in 4:3.
A behind-the-scenes featurette in nonanamorphic widescreen spends 2 minutes with the director and some of the actors talking about making the movie.
“Meet the Cast” is the best featurette in the set as the actors introduce themselves and talk a bit about the characters they’re playing. This 4:3 feature runs 7 ¼ minutes.
“2003 Blackout True Stories” actually has members of the cast talking about their own real experiences during the infamous 2003 blackout. This 5½-minute featurette is presented in 4:3.
The DVD offers 5 deleted scenes all in one 6 ¾-minute sequence (the viewer cannot choose individual scenes to watch). Two of the scenes are actually extensions of scenes that are actually in the movie. They’re in anamorphic widescreen.
A preview of Things We Lost in the Fire is offered on the disc. A trailer for Blackout is not provided.
Detailing a fascinating moment in time for one Brooklyn neighborhood, Blackout is worthy of viewing. While a more detailed screenplay and a few better performances might have raised the film to another level, what’s here is certainly entertaining enough for a rental.