Apple TV introduced its true crime-thriller drama “Black Bird” this month to rave reviews from critics and among the notable performances in the limited series is a stoic effort from the late Ray Liotta.
The show’s first two episodes were labeled “certified fresh” by the Rotten Tomatoes website, culminating in a 98% rating, and helped to call attention in the crowded streaming world to Apple TV for a change.
The series is based on the crime memoir “In with the Devil: A fallen hero, a serial killer, and a dangerous bargain for redemption.” Dennis Lehane, the famous American novelist behind “Shutter Island,” is at the helm of the series as the lead writer, executive producer and showrunner. But it’s Liotta who stands out amongst the star-studded cast and crew.
In one of his final roles, Liotta, who died in his sleep at 67 years old in May, plays a caring father who at times was absent during the lead character’s upbringing. That absence may have played a part in some of the life choices his son confronts.
Taron Egerton plays that lead role, Jimmy Keene, who is a former high school football star who lost his way and entered into the drug world despite his father’s career as a police officer. Keene finds himself locked behind bars with a 10-year sentence after police search his home and find bundles of cocaine and an array of illegal firearms. Keene’s only hope at freedom is through coaxing information from suspected serial killer Larry Hall, played by Paul Walter Hauser, in a quick-fix solution offered to Keene by desperate investigators.
Liotta, meanwhile, tries to counsel his son through prison visits. But “Big” Jim Keene’s relationship with Jimmy often comes across as strained and displays a toxic masculinity from both sides that often takes over situations. One of Liotta’s stronger lines in episode one illustrates that often-silent rapport the father and son had with each other, saying “me and my son, we have a shorthand. We say things without having to say them.”
Egerton, in the series premiere’s press conference, spoke glowingly of the first day he was on set with Liotta and how it set the tone for the shoot.
“He caught my eye, and walked over to me and hugged me without saying a word,” Egerton said. “It was a long hug, but not uncomfortable. We only spoke to each other in character for the first day. I took my lead from him. I think he wanted us to be father and son before we were colleagues.”
Jimmy’s imperfect but deep relationship with his father is both the driving force for the plot and the soul of the show. The unspoken bond between Liotta and Egerton — as translated directly on screen — challenges the audience to think deeper.
“What ensued was a profound experience as an actor. I have never felt such an easy, warm connection with another performer,” Egerton said of Liotta. “He was so generous. If I went one way, he followed me. Always dancing. Always listening. Never self-generated.”
Viewers can expect six tense episodes, each spanning about 60 minutes, and Apple TV decided on a slower release of the series to build up the drama. Rather than unleashing all six shows as the calendar turned to July, the platform chose to release episodes on a weekly basis. Episode one is free with an Apple ID and Apple TV also offers a seven-day free trial for those interested in binging the drama.