Black Mass: Movie Man Jackson

black mass stub

“If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

Wise words from a notorious criminal. It’s the 1970’s, and the city of Boston, Massachusetts has become rife with criminal activity. Many gangs run the streets, like the Winter Hill Gang, led by Boston native James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), brother of state senator William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As much as the FBI would love to shut down all criminal organizations in the area, sometimes a one-or-the-other choice has to be made. In a land of big wolves, the biggest is the Italian Mafia, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf. Knowing this, an old childhood friend of Bulger’s, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), approaches Bulger with a deal: Become an informant, giving intel of other local empires, in exchange for the bureau turning a relative blind eye to Whitey’s operation. Originally believed to be the lesser of all evils, the FBI soon finds that Bulger is the biggest one.

jdepp

Director Scott Cooper’s (Out of the Furnace) Black Mass asks one real question: Does it mean anything to take down the house if a stronger one is built on the side? The clear answer is no. Aside from that, though, Black Mass isn’t a new spin on biographies or gangster flicks. But, it is engrossing once it gets going, and benefits from a strong cast, spearheaded by a guy who the world has been begging of to sink his teeth into something other than a pirate, a vampire, or an art-dealing buffoon.

Yes, Johnny Depp, delivers here. Instead of the makeup and the accompanying appearances making, or in some cases, marring, his more recent roles, Depp’s appearance here, though still with makeup, is minimal enough to allow Depp the actor to shine through. His Bulger, make no mistake, is very evil, so if looking for a truly dynamic lead character, it may be best to look elsewhere. But, from the first scene Depp appears in, it never feels like he’s has to “warm up” to be evil; he’s ready from the jump. The performance is high quality throughout, featuring many scenes packed with tension as to just what Whitey will do. Sometimes he does something, and other times he doesn’t, but the unease and unpredictability are always present.

edgerton

It may be too early to say, but Depp should almost certainly in the nominee pool for Best Actor. His character’s counterpart of John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton, should almost certainly be in the nominee pool for Best Supporting Actor. Seeing Edgerton’s character devolve from an agent who wants to do the right thing by aligning with a lesser evil to bring down a bigger evil, to desperately trying to convince himself he’s still doing the right thing is equal parts fascinating, sad, and even funny at times.

The relationship between Connolly and Whitey is more brother-like than Whitey and his own brother, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a good but “I still see this actor/actress” performance. In defense of Benedict, he’s not really on screen enough to build any momentum. In smaller roles, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, and Peter Sarsgaard all fit nicely and contribute as key pieces all revolving around Whitey and John.

Filming around the same areas where so much of Bulger’s criminal empire occurred is a great (and probably necessary) choice that gives more authenticity to the movie. Cooper lends some solid camerawork to the story’s events, nothing spectacular as this is an intentionally drab visual palate, but technically sound it certainly is. It’s the story itself, however, that works well enough to get into, but, based on what appear to be a mostly true telling of events, doesn’t ascend to classic mobster and crime movies. As a whole, it just sort of lacks that emotional hold that similar movies in the genre possess.

Additionally, Black Mass suffers somewhat from a slow start as the result of an iffy effort to flesh out Bulger beyond being only a bad guy. It doesn’t truly get going until about 25-30 minutes in. And, while the events are told in a very straightforward manner, gaps exist and seem to be evidenced by fade-to-black timelime jumps that possibly could have given the movie opportunity to explore more relationships and key characters if additional runtime was given.

harvardyard

The term Black Mass has a religious origin, literally defined as the darker inverse of the traditional Catholic mass, bordering on parody and obvious blasphemy. As for the film Black Mass, the story isn’t a parody, or treated glamorously, but brings, what feels like at to yours truly at least, a true-to-real-life history lesson presented on the silver screen of a guy who I only knew of through America’a Most Wanted.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to liveforfilms.com, blogs.indiewire.com, and boston.cbslocal.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Advertisements

Afternoon Delight: Movie Man Jackson

afternoonposter

“Does that feel better? To be a pariah?”

Suburban life may appear to be perfect on the outside, but on the inside, it can be more depressing and disturbing than “normal” people problems. In Afternoon Delight, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is your average, stay-at-home mother. Her husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) has an amazing and well-paying job, and she contributes to her local preschool that her child attends. But things aren’t perfect. Her life is essentially without direction, and without passion. Sex between the married couple is basically nonexistent, and tepid when it does occur.

One of Rachel’s friends mentions going to a strip club in a effort to spice up her love life. While there, she experiences a life-altering experience by running into a dancer named McKenna (Juno Temple). Seeing this young woman in this situation leaves an indelible mark in Rachel’s mind, and she seeks out McKenna. The two begin a friendship and soon Rachel “adopts” McKenna into her home in hopes of rehabilitating her, and maybe finding something that will revitalize her fading relationship.

stripclub

Afternoon Delight made some noise during 2013’s Sundance event, snagging an award for best directing in the U.S. dramatic category, as well as being the number one movie of 2013 according to respected director Quentin Tarantino. With all of this support, I was interested in seeing the prospect of something intriguing. Instead, what I saw was a lack of direction, and a frequent drag.

Immediately prevalent is a lack of definition and verisimilitude in the film’s events and characters. It is hard to accept the fact that after seeing a young woman at a strip club, Rachel is somehow infatuated with her situation, going out of her way to suspend everything in her life to find and open up her home to her…without consulting her husband first. Was a connection established that fast? If so, what makes McKenna the one she is drawn to? Is it attraction? Spur of the moment?  Nothing is given or alluded to as to why Rachel clicks so well and quickly with McKenna. Not everything needs to be spelled out, but taking everything as is with no explanation isn’t the best course of action here.

Furthermore, the struggles between Rachel and her husband are never delved upon. The movie just drops us into the fact that the relationship is on the rocks, with no explanation or allusion as to why, which actually doesn’t look that bad. Everything is seen from Rachel’s point of view, which is way too myopic in my opinion for this type of piece. She is a flawed character, which is fine, but her point of view is somewhat distorted, superior, and even selfish, and yet it is the only view seen. As a result, it is a struggle to get behind her. This predominant viewpoint makes the ending a tough pill to swallow. In a nutshell (slight SPOILER) it basically says that every event that occurs, no matter how negative and destructive to other’s lives, is OK because Rachel has found herself and her desires are satisfied.

juno

As a whole, Afternoon Delight comes off as overly pretentious and thought-provoking when in essence, the only concrete thing to take away from it is the fact that one should care about their own life before playing savior to another’s. Otherwise, the themes of intimacy and identity have been seen before and done better before. The dialogue is supposed to be poignant and sharp, but achieves none of this. It is surprisingly billed as a comedy, a dark one at that, but nothing is ever amusing.

Kathryn Hahn has a solid following, and has proven to be pretty adept in comedy. This role allows her to be more serious, and though the writing for the role is weak, she is good. Not captivating, but all in all good. Ditto for Juno Temple. Her character is actually the easiest to cheer for, because she is comfortable in her own skin. It is a sexy yet subtle performance, even if the role itself is more of a concept rather than a character, if that makes sense. Jane Lynch only appears a few times as a therapist to Rachel, and her character offers nothing of note whatsoever. Made worse is the fact that her character is involved in what is supposed to be a very powerful moment in the movie, yet the moment ends up as shoehorned, cringe-worthy, and devoid of any emotional heft.

This is an independent film that looks as expected. Directed by Jill Soloway, it carries a minimalist and simplistic style that works as intended. But, there are times in which there is some uncertainty of how Soloway wants to shoot this. It is pretty conventional, with one scene near the film’s climax that looks great, but interspersed in between are scenes in which shots mimic what is seen in a documentary. This style is really out of place and makes the piece not so much raw but just amateurish.

bed

Perhaps I missed something, but the look at first-world problems and its characters in Afternoon Delight is unrelatable, undefined, and essentially a bore to sit through, even with good lead performances. This afternoon delight isn’t worth looking forward to.

Grade: D- 

Photo credits go to imdb.com, filmschoolrejects.com, and moviepilot.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson