Friday, September 25, 2015

Black Mass (2015) Review:

Johnny Depp is a well known and praised actor for his work by portraying colorful various characters. However in recent years, many began to think Depp was running out of ideas on how to make his roles unique. A role many loved from his early 2000s was the lead role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl as Captain Jack Sparrow. Audiences and fans a like began to notice that as time went on, Depp began taking liberties with his acting choices and translating many of Sparrow's mannerisms into his other roles. Although hardcore Depp fans do not mind this, objective critics were not impressed with all the doppelgangers. Then there's this film which completely flips the Depp perception of his usual odd and quirky roles into something that will truly showcase that Depp has more to add. There really isn't much to pull out on the spot for this project. Several of the elements in this production blend so well that it's very difficult to go back and think about what needed work or stood out as bad.

That's not a smile that should make you feel comfortable
Johnny Depp plays the Irish fist-throwing/trash-talking Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, a real life small town gangster during the mid 1970s who ended up soaring to the F.B.I.'s most wanted list after the early 1990s. Competently directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace (2013)) and written by Mark Mallouk (his first credit) and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow (2014)), this group of people and the cast tacked on make this story quite the watcher. The writing covers the material as if it were a documentary but does it in such a way that demonstrates to the audience what actually happened other than the people being interviewed giving it all away. It's not incredibly ingenious but it is smart because it gives the viewers a better idea of the people involved and how they dealt with the situation that was erupting during that current time period other than hearing from them decades later. The only thing that is worth mentioning that should've been brought up is how Bulger got his mentality that he was so infamously known for? There is no backstory for Bulger's motivations. Why was he the way he was?

Other than this, everything else works great. Casting wise, Johnny Depp as Jimmy Bulger is jarringly different from recent acting choices and it is a delight to see him as the fouled-mouthed Irishman. Depp's voice is grainy sounding, his receding blonde hairline and cloudy blue eyes really make this something to remember. Even though the background to Bulger's eventual trademark characteristics are not expanded upon, Depp's performance is dumbfoundingly captivating. For such an antagonistic character, the writing and Depp combined are able to give even Bulger small tidbits of humanity that don't even seem possible. The reason why this is almost shocking is because most audiences are not supposed to feel sympathy for such a character. What's weird is that there are times where it seemed as if Bulger did have his soft moments. For example, when Bulger makes a promise about a certain topic, he honestly sounds like he's giving a scout's honor. Then again, it was hard to tell because of how deceitful his personality was. That alone is demonstrated quite early on. This is how devious the writing and the character is.

Along side Depp is Joel Edgerton as John Connolly, an old friend of Bulger who feels he owes him a favor. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger's brother Billy who also knows Connolly and frequently associates with him. Actors Jesse Plemons and Rory Cochrane play Bulger's henchmen who show they are just as loyal to Bulger as is Connolly and Billy. There's also scenes with Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon, David Harbour and Adam Scott who work along side Connolly in the F.B.I. agency. The majority of these characters get a good dose of character development and each actor performs exceptionally well. The violence although not gruesome, is certainly brutal no doubt. The killings are mostly direct and to the point about what the job is and there are some that will make the viewer hope they don't ever have a run in with a character like Bulger. Not even a can of spinach would save somebody against Bulger; contempt is what he lives on.

Listening in on Bulger rumors
The cinematography shot by Masanobu Takayanagi has a skilled visual flare to it as well. Since this film has two methods of story telling, there are also two methods of camerawork. For the documentary style part of the narrative, Takayanagi films those scenes completely still and close up like an interview would. As for the rest of the execution, Takayanagi films the rest of the scenes like other films. Thankfully there are no shaky cam shots, or disorienting continuous rotating 360 shots. Every scene is well lit and is steady no matter where the camera goes. The film score composed by Tom Holkenborg, better known as Junkie XL also brings in some nice cues to the table. It was a little questionable at first because of how Holkenborg likes to mimic several of Hans Zimmer contemporary synthetic type cues but here Holkenborg actually provided a enjoyable listening experience that includes strings and piano that emotionally capture the trouble that goes on throughout this crime thriller. It's tragic and sounds great.

The only thing that sticks out as of needs for improvement was explaining how Jimmy Bulger got his motivations to become what he's known for. That's not much to say though with a talented supporting cast, gritty violence, effective camerawork, tragic sounding music and a defining performance from Johnny Depp that is quite opposite from the majority of his previous roles.

Points Earned --> 8:10

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