The opening of Black Butterfly is much like many movies before it. Paul (Antonio Banderas), a struggling writer, has a confrontation at a dinner and a mysterious stranger, Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), intervenes. The writer who is struggling with words as much as he is with drink picks up the stranger as he’s walking alongside the road, offering him a place to stay for the night. But it wouldn’t be much of a movie if a writer simply picked up a stranger. Things aren’t what they seem between Paul and Jack, and the unsettling behavior by the drifter escalates as this low-key thriller ramps up.
Paul is as down on his luck as can be. In his secluded home in the woods, he drinks himself into oblivion as he attempts to pen a screenplay that will salvage his fledgling career. His wife won’t talk to him. He’s behind on his bills. Paul hopes to catch a break with the help of Laura (Piper Perabo) for his mounting struggles, but the writer is consistently his own worst enemy.
At first, Jack’s presence around Paul’s place is helpful, with the stranger offering plenty of unsolicited advice about human nature and varying plot developments as well as repairing the deteriorating home of the writer. However, Jack’s behavior takes a dark turn. He threatens violence towards Paul as a means to illustrate what fear does to the mind. With a series of murders and missing persons in the vicinity, it would seem that Paul has welcomed a madman into his life.
Director Brian Goodman’s movie plays out by the number at first, and that’s entirely by design. It’s easy to get a sense where things are going because the screenplay by Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley is setting up the audience. It’s later in the film that it become rather reliant on twists, and just when you think Black Butterfly has expended all of its twists there are a couple more. Without divulging exactly the nature of the twist I can say that the first piece of plot gimmickry works rather well, taking the story into an unexpected direction. But the film just isn’t content with one effective twist, and as it continues towards its conclusion it underwhelms with another major twist that pretty much nullifies the film’s most interesting aspects. Black Butterfly may not always be a satisfying movie, but it certainly has an incredibly unsatisfying ending.
The real appeal of Black Butterfly is watching Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers play against each other in the confined location of the film. Much of the film’s 90-minute running time is occupied by these two actors, and they do create a tense dynamic between each other. The only reason any of the film’s multiple twists are the least bit effective is the uneasy tension that the two are able to craft in the close quarters of the story’s setting.
Black Butterfly would’ve be a modest but effective thriller had its creative team not attempted to get too clever. It’s a well-acted movie that escalates but once the twists start piling up the movie finds itself in a corner where it can’t leave well enough alone.
- Overall Score
A fairly rote but effective thriller, Black Butterfly works with its two strong leading performances but the movie undoes what works with a series of twists, one that’s quite effective and a final one that is absolutely dreadful.