‘Black Butterfly’: Film Review

Gets the genre job done.

In a remake of a French thriller, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers play strangers whose wary encounter quickly spirals into life-or-death peril.

Depending on your willingness to go with the menacing flow, Black Butterfly either takes one twist too many or serves up a satisfying meta punch. Director Brian Goodman’s neat two-hander, largely restricted to a remote mountain cabin, gets location-expanding mileage from the deft performances of Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as off-center characters — respectively, a blocked writer at the end of his financial rope and the presumptuous drifter who offers his assistance. As no doubt intended, their dark symbiosis unfolds as the stuff of movie contrivance, and is no less involving for it.

In a story filled with dubious types and an unseen serial killer disturbing the rural peace, helmer Goodman (What Doesn’t Kill You) efficiently stirs up the unease, working from an adaptation by Justin Stanley and Marc Frydman of Herve Korian’s screenplay for the 2008 film Papillon Noir.

The burning question at the heart of the film’s poisonous duet is why red flags about the almost comically sketchy Jack (Rhys Meyers), with his humorless squint and fastidious facial hair, don’t appear sooner to Banderas’ Paul. It might be because a part of Paul identifies with Jack, or perhaps because his brain is pickled with alcohol. A successful Madrid novelist turned embittered Hollywood screenwriter, Paul is holed up in his rustic Colorado home (Italy subs for the Rockies), determined to write a career-saving screenplay. But on his Hemingway-esque manual typewriter (he has a rifle to match), he’s pecking out the same sentence over and over, not unlike Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Unhappily alone since his wife left him and unable to pay his tab at the general store, Paul does what he can to buy time with the shopkeeper (filmmaker Abel Ferrara conveys the souring of trust in his cameo). He dodges bad news from his agent and disappointing updates from Laura (well played by Piper Perabo), the real estate agent who’s trying to find a buyer for his mountaintop retreat and also trying to sidestep his invitations to dinner.

Paul’s aggressive impatience behind the wheel leads to a confrontation with an understandably angry trucker (played by the director) at a roadside diner, where Rhys Meyers’ Jack comes to his shocking rescue. “I do what I have to do,” Jack tells Paul. “Then I move on.” Except that he isn’t moving on so quickly after a grateful Paul gives him a lift to his aerie and offers him a place to shower and rest.

With alarming speed, Jack insinuates himself into Paul’s deteriorating domestic setup (production designer Michael Fissneider delivers a convincing level of clutter and neglect). Beyond cooking, cleaning and making unasked-for repairs to the property, Jack becomes inordinately interested in Paul’s writing — becomes, weirdly, a kind of life coach to Paul, pushing him to quit the booze, work harder, write better. In the name of realism, his writing lessons include threats of violence. Soon the belligerently helpful ex-con becomes Paul’s jailer.

As the inevitable storm knocks out phone and Internet service, and Laura and other locals become caught up in Paul’s struggle to free himself, Goodman and director of photography Jose David Montero up the tension while keeping a general sense of doubt and artifice on a low boil. The story’s swerves and feints have more impact in retrospect, after the final turn of the blade (or the page).

None of it is earth-shattering, but Goodman gives it muscle and makes it work. And with their synapse-firing performances, Banderas and Rhys Meyers keep the viewer at arm’s length and guessing — through, and even past, fade-out.

Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Production companies: Grindstone Entertainment Group, Ambi Media Group, Paradox Studios, Elipsis Capital, Battleplan Productions, Premiere Pictures
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo, Abel Ferrara, Vincent Riotta, Brian Goodman
Director: Brian Goodman
Screenwriters: Justin Stanley, Marc Frydman
Based on the French film
Papillon Noirby Herve Korian
Producers: Silvio Muraglia, Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Alexandra Klim, Marc Frydman, Rod Lurie, Alberto Burgueño, Juan Antonio Garcia Peredo
Executive producers: Mikael Wiren, Anthony Mastromauro, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, Emmanuel Paintendre, Gerard Barba, Jason Garrett, David Rogers, Christophe Carmona, Francois Charlant
Director of photography: Jose David Montero
Production designer: Michael Fissneider
Costume designer: Massimo Parrini Cantini
Editors: Julia Juaniz, Mark Sult
Composer: Federico Jusid
Casting: Scot Boland, Victoria Burrows

Rated R, 93 minutes