When I saw the trailer for Black Site, I was intrigued. The plot looked generic, the production looked cheap, but the cast was impressive for a movie like that. When I dug deeper, I was even more curious. Before this, the writer had only written 3 short films and a documentary. The director, Sophia Banks, was also making her feature-length debut after directing 5 short films before this. So, how does an obviously cheap movie with an incredibly inexperienced crew get a well-known cast that includes Michelle Monaghan, Jason Clarke, and Jai Courtney? I had to watch this to find out.
Black Site (2022) follows Abby Trent (Michelle Monaghan), a CIA analyst trying to track down a terrorist known as Hatchet (Jason Clarke), the man she believes is responsible for a bombing that killed her husband and daughter. While stationed at a top-secret black site with a group of operatives, including Jai Courtney's Miller, Hatchet is captured and brought to the base for interrogation. When disaster strikes, Trent must stop Hatchet from escaping the facility.
As I said before, that is a very generic plot, but I don't necessarily think it's a bad one. If any genre can get away with a weaker story, it's action. If the writing, the actors, or the action scenes are strong enough, the plot takes a back seat anyways. At the very least, this premise is a decent enough setup for some enjoyable action. It provides a unique location, a clearly established protagonist and antagonist, and an emotional connection between those two, which makes the inevitable showdown more personal.
Unfortunately, the writing doesn't do a great job of expanding upon that basic premise. Despite some A+ effort from the main actors, the characters never develop into anything other than dull stereotypes. Monaghan gives a good performance, but the emotional scenes towards the beginning seem to get pushed aside once the action kicks off, leaving me without the emotional payoff I was hoping for. Still, she does great work when the script gives her an opportunity to, and I appreciate that.
One of the crucial aspects of an action movie is the main villain. In this case, Hatchet is a disappointment. Jason Clarke barely speaks until the last few minutes. I guess that was an attempt to make Hatchet seem like a mysterious and terrifying unstoppable force, but it didn't work. Clarke is able to bring some life to the character during the few scenes where he gets to speak. Unfortunately, monotonous pacing and lifeless action scenes eliminate any menace his character has, making him a forgettable baddie.
Miller (Jai Courtney) is about as well-written as you'd expect a character with only one name to be. That being said, Courtney brings a good amount of physicality and intimidation to his role. On top of that, he is obviously the most experienced of the bunch when it comes to the action scenes. He appears comfortable and natural doing the fight choreography. The downside is that all the other actors look slow and awkward by comparison. Courtney was one of the best things about the whole movie. I just wish the action scenes served him better.
That brings me to the one thing that could have saved Black Site from mediocrity, the action. Sadly, it isn't able to. The choreography is a bit uninspired, but not terrible. The director's inexperience is especially evident in these scenes, as they have no sense of urgency or excitement. As I mentioned before, Monaghan and Clarke are great actors, but they don't seem like they feel at home in a fight scene. As a result of this (and probably the use of quite a few stuntmen/women), the fight scenes are slow and over-edited. The biggest flaw of the action scenes, they're boring.
Overall, Black Site is not a horrible movie. I don't hate it, and I don't feel like I wasted my time watching it. The problem is that I can't really find many things I can point to as being above average. I still can't answer how this low-budget movie, with this listless script and this mostly inexperienced crew, managed to land this trio of well-known actors. I'm glad it did, though, because they're about the only things that kept me interested. They all brought their A-game to roles they easily could have phoned in. The movie is better because of them, but I still can't call it good.