Down Came a Blackbird (TV Movie 1995) Poster

(1995 TV Movie)

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Snapped off his dose.
EThompsonUMD23 December 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Made for television in 1995 and featuring Raul Julia's final screen appearance as well as fine performances from Laura Dern and Vanessa Redgrave, Down Came a Blackbird is one of those unexpected finds that serendipitously pop up on late night movie channel programming.

As a mystery, the film is far too static and talky, and its main plot line - mysterious foreign agents pursuing `Professor Ramirez' (the Julia character) - turns out to be a very weak Maguffin. Nevertheless, I found myself unable to turn off the television, even as time marched into the wee hours of the morning. The development and interplay of the three main characters was riveting and the framing device of a Betty Ford-like clinic for post-torture victims provided a curious and fascinating variation on the group therapy psychodrama genre. Of course the very existence of such a clinic makes a profound comment on the pervasiveness of state-sponsored torture in the modern era. To further emphasize the point, the victims in Down Came a Blackbird are drawn from diverse historical and geographic sources: Central America, Haiti, the '60's Greek Junta, and an unnamed African revolution. The clinic's director, Anna Lenke (Vanessa Redgrave), is herself a survivor of unspeakable horrors experienced in Nazi concentration camps.

Since this is a film driven by character and dialogue, the casting and acting were the most critical elements to its success. Julia's unfortunate real-life bout with cancer (he died six days after the shoot) certainly adds to the credibility of his role as a man haunted by what the other patients and the audience believe are memories of psychological terror designed to silence his outspoken intelligentsia criticism of state terror. That the source of his torment turns out to be something unexpectedly other only adds to the impact of the performance. Likewise, Laura Dern is utterly convincing in her role as a journalist/political torture victim, in part because she too looks severely emaciated - although one hopes that real life was not also the cause of her anorexic appearance.

At any rate, her character, Helen McNulty, suffers the film's central violation of innocence as symbolized by the title's allusion to the last verse of `Sing a Song of Sixpence': `The Maid was in the garden/Hanging out the clothes./When down came a blackbird/And snapped off her nose.' As an ambitious but naïve journalist, Helen McNulty had gone off to cover a Central American conflict for a U.S. magazine. With startling suddenness she first witnesses the ruthless suppression of a peaceful democratic demonstration and then she and her husband/photographer are arrested and unimaginably brutalized by secret police. The details of her harrowing experience are revealed bit by bit through a series of gripping, if somewhat predictable, psychological flashbacks. Anne Lenke's relentless therapeutic probing ultimately produces the desired abreaction and McNulty's state of denial is broken down. Presumably, the American audience's naivete about state-sponsored brutality is also supposed to be disabused in the process; however, the film's resolution is too abrupt and forced for this theme to resonate as well as it might have.

Despite this third act weakness, however, Down Came a Blackbird is a sleeper worth surrendering a little sleep to tune in on.
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A fairly good TV flick!
sirfire13 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
As with most of the comments posted this Movie is well worth just to watch Vanessa Redgrave put out a great performance in a potentially great story that seemed to lacked a good ending. Raul Julia performance I would rate as one of his best as the mysterious patient who ended up having the worst story to tell.

Dern was the weakest link and i agree with other comments that her performance was up and down throughout the movie however I found the story to not help in this case as well.

I just cannot get over how she "survived" sure i get the point it was more the actions than the event but I just find her escape just abit too cheesy for my liking.

The twist was good but the ending failed with me and to tell you more would just ruin it.

The story had some potential and it was a good TV movie if you can get over some inconsistencies and to just watch Vanessa and Raul in his last performance was simply divine.

RIP Raul it was sad to see your sunken face but the spark in your eyes was there till the end.
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Superb perfomance of vanessa redgrave and Raul julia on a political current important problem : Tortur survivors
hellmuth3 January 2002
In addition to the excellent performance of Vanessa Redgrave and the deceased Raúl Julia, the value and significance of this film is that it shows, extremely close to reality, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome of "torture survivors>", the modern denomination of those that been primary or secondary subjects in the widespread use of torture around the world. This film is so dramatically close to real cases experienced by the Danish IRC (international Recovery center for Torture survivors) that it will impress both who work with torture survivors and those really looking for suspense, unexpected ending snd superb performance of Raúl Julia and Vanessa Redgrave. Honestly a film worth to buy and keep in the same class as My Neigbors son and a few others.
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AKS-62 June 2001
Down Came a Blackbird is a harrowing film. Some scenes made me feel sick since they made me think about how some people can make other people suffer.

The script is well-written, and the acting is brilliant. Especially Raul Julia impressed me. (6/10)
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Redgrave is wonderful, Julia is good, Dern...well?
Louisville8822 June 2006
This film had so much potential. Just so much. Vanessa Redgrave was deserving of a Golden Globe nomination and Emmy, if this is a t.v. film, and Raul Julia was good as well. It's our lead actress that gives me the trouble. Laura Dern switches the moods and attitudes of her character almost all the time, sure she has her moments, but when you have bad ones, they tend to over shadow the good. The ending left me wanting more, it just...ended so suddenly, I think I'll have to blame Dern for that since her performance was so shaky. Redgrave was born to play this role was was wonderful in it. Especially with her German accent. It was flawless. As is 95% of Redgraves work.
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just watched this on cable...
tristanrobin12 December 2008
This is one tough, searing, emotional roller coaster. Excellent film which should have received much more attention. I didn't even know it existed, and just happened to run across it while searching movies being shown today.

Raul Julia (as usual) gives an honest and truthful performance.

Of course, Vanessa Redgrave is enchanting and engrossing ... certainly not a surprise. But she does a lot to keep a very very dark story from being sunk into a black hole of pathos.

This is not an easy film to sit through - but a must for those who are interested in a character's journey.
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Tense drama
helpless_dancer30 January 2000
Well played out drama about victims of torture trying to put their lives together again with the help of a psychiatrist, herself a former victim of the Nazis. This was a shocking tale with some very upsetting scenes, with a surprising and dramatic ending.
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