Mathieu is a young and talented black box analyst on a mission to solve the reason behind the deadly crash of a brand new aircraft. Yet, when the case is closed by the authorities, Mathieu cannot help but sense there is something wrong with the evidence. As he listens to the tracks again, he starts detecting some seriously disturbing details. Could the tape have been modified? Going against his boss’ orders, Mathieu begins his own rogue investigation – an obsessional and dangerous quest for the truth that will quickly threaten far more than his career…
The first thing you’ll notice about Black Box is the sharp cinematography work. It’s unmissable as the film opens in one long take. The camera glides from inside the cockpit, down the aisles, into the rear of the aircraft, to land squarely on the titular object. It’s a stunning and terrifying beginning of a taut thriller. Mathieu is a gifted acoustic engineer tasked with transcribing the audio that leads up to the crash of Atrian 800, where 300 passengers and 16 crew members perished. When details begin to shift, Mathieu’s obsession with the truth spirals.
Paired with the Netflix documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, Black Box is even more frightening. Aviation insider politics adds an additional layer of suspense. My heart was in my throat every second of this film. Writer-director Yann Gozlan, alongside screenwriter Nicolas Bouvet-Levrard, and collaborator Jérémie Guez (The Night Eats The World, one of my favorite films), cleverly compounds conspiracy theories and intertwine them with raw emotion.
Watching the physical process of removing the voice recording apparatus is fascinating. To understand that such a small piece of equipment contains the key to such pertinent knowledge astounds. But ultimately, it’s a human being that leads to a conclusion.
Pierre Niney as Matthieu gives a brilliant performance, luring you in with measured intensity. The nuance Niney presents hit differently for me as a mother of a neurodivergent child. Niney presents the physical aspects of an individual with Sensory Processing Disorder. Some people with neurotypical children don’t know that this can actually be a superpower. Ultra-sensitive auditory issues are both a blessing and a curse. Niney also brings emotional trauma, heightening Matthieu’s intention. Niney is, simply put, astonishing.
The recreations of the crash circumstances and recovered wreckage have a visceral effect. The editing is award-worthy. In a narrative where the audience believes they have the entire picture, tweaking that understanding jars the brain. This evolving monster of a mystery slowly and relentlessly squeezes the air out of your lungs. After watching Black Box, I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable flying again.