The conspiracy thriller gets an effective update in Black Box (2021), a French production that slots in nicely alongside classic genre progenitors. When a passenger plane goes down in the Alps en route to Paris, the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) is called in. Their goal: examine the crash site, analyze the flight recording, and determine the crash’s cause. The BEA’s best audio analyst is Mathieu Vasseur (Pierre Niney), a smart, inward man with an acute sense of hearing. Mathieu is usually first on the scene when an aviation disaster occurs, so he’s surprised when his boss Victor Pollack (Olivier Rabourdin) sidelines him in favor of a less-capable colleague. This turns out to be the first hint that something is awry. When Pollack mysteriously goes missing, Mathieu takes over the investigation. His initial analysis points to an open-and-shut case of terrorism, but the recordings are just ambiguous enough to make Mathieu uncertain, and as new evidence comes to light he starts to dig deeper—flying in the face of external pressure to close the case.
With its patient construction and slowly revealed mystery, Black Box is a classy conspiracy thriller that draws favorable comparisons to genre ancestors like Blow Up, The Conversation, and The Parallax View. Like those films, it possesses careful, precise visual storytelling and a thoughtful approach to sound design. The result is a suspenseful puzzler that never over-explicates, peeling away layers and trusting the viewer to keep up. Niney does fine work as the intelligent, resourceful hero sliding deeper and deeper into paranoia. He’s supported ably by a cast that includes Anne Azoulay, André Dussollier, Lou de Laâge, and Sébastien Pouderoux. Ultimately, it may not be as memorable as the classics it resembles, but it’s a worthy new entry in the canon.