gangster

September 20, 2015

Black Mass

UNEASY

Johnny Depp was never really on my radar of great actors until he put on the gold teeth and somewhat affected swagger of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Oh, I had seen him in films like Donnie Brasco and Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands.  However, I never really appreciated him as my kind of actor until he disappeared into the role of Captain Jack.  A role that truly made him an icon.  Then Depp began to make choices, mostly prompted by his friend and frequent collaborator Tim Burton, that turned his unique ability to disappear into a role a bit of a criticized trope.  Odd because the more he did what we kind of wish all of our actors would do, disappear into a role, the more we criticized.  Whether that be Dark Shadows, Alice In Wonderland, Mortdecai, The Lone Ranger, or Into The Woods.  It has been a somewhat unfair appraisal of Depp because it is obvious in hindsight that those films as a whole are the main problem.  The common denominator of those films and criticized Depp performances are also that they are light hearted tales.  People who still championed Depp hoped for him to do what he does best in more serious films.  The totally unremarkable Transcendence was not light hearted, but the film seemed to neuter every bit of personality or nuance Depp has.  Depp’s career seemed to be in critical limbo.  Fortunately for Depp, the film Black Mass has come along to not only break him out of that limbo but remind us how talented of an actor Depp is when put in the proper project.
Black Mass is the not-so-thorough true story of Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and how his shady alliance with members of the FBI made him one of the most powerful criminals in the country.  If you have seen The Departed before going into this film, you will realize coming out how much director Martin Scorsese and actor Jack Nicholson borrowed from this infamous gangster’s life.  Since the backstory of Nicholson’s Frank Costello took kind of a backseat to Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon’s characters, I was delighted to hear that a film about the real Whitey Bulger was coming out and would hopefully fill in all those gaps.  Regrettably, As you can tell from the “not-so-thorough” descriptor in my opening sentence, Black Mass does not really flesh out Whitey as much as I or most would like.  Black Mass feels more like a collection of scattered moments, very well shot and well performed moments, that serve to drive the point home as to how scummy and terrifying Whitey Bulger was.  
What Black Mass lacks in specificity, it makes up for in its performances.  Johnny Depp certainly is the standout.  A performance that is worth the price of admission and worthy of Oscar consideration.  Thankfully, Depp is not alone.  Joel Edgerton, who is having a pretty good year with his earlier sleeper hit The Gift, matches Depp’s seductively slimey performance with an entertainingly sad and humanized one of his own.  Where Matt Damon’s character Colin Sullivan comes off as more a comically wormy character in The Departed, Edgerton’s version of a corrupt and desperate law enforcement official under Bulger’s thumb comes off as more real and relatable.  Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Whitey’s brother Billy, impressed me since I was a little wary of how he would fit into this film and how well his Boston accent would hold up.  Cumberbatch nails every scene he is in, which left me wanting more insight into him, given how compelling a story it is to be the legitimate brother to a illegitimate gangster.  But the big names aren’t the only ones who shine.  Rory Cochrane, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple and even Dakota Johnson are compelling in their limited amount of time in the film.  
Whether it be Out Of The Furnace, Crazy Heart, or Black Mass, Scott Cooper seems to be making a career of helming films where the performances are stellar but the films themselves end up being only so-so.  It shows that as a director, Cooper knows how to get the best out of his actors, especially Johnny Depp.  He just needs a bit more polish and terms of telling a complete story in my opinion.  He knows how to create the tense and UNEASY atmosphere Black Mass needs.  I just hoped for a more indepth look at the man Depp creepily embodies.  Cook up your steaks, don’t give away the family secret, don’t put your wet fingers in the peanuts, don’t tell Whitey Bulger that you’re coming down with something, watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.   
April 16, 2014

Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway – Customary

It occurs to me that if you want to be taken super serious as a British actor there are two things that you can do; 1) Play Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes, or 2) Play some sort of British gangster with psychopathic tendencies who likes to drink, do blow, and say “cunt” a lot.  Don’t be offended by the c-word, it was used strictly for scientific purposes. This brings me to “Dom Hemingway” a film that seems rather customary for British crime cinema, for better and worse.

“Hemingway” stars Jude Law as the titular character who is fresh out of prison after 12 years for keeping the secret of a Russian gangster named Mr. Fontaine. After his release, he reunites with his associate Dickie and the two meet Fontaine at his house in the country to celebrate and for Dom to be rewarded.  Things don’t go as planned for Dom and by the end of the film he not only finds redemption, but a new lease on life, sort of.

As I mentioned before his is Law’s “British Crime Film” following in the steps of actors such as Ben Kingsley, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, and to a lesser degree, Daniel Craig. What sets Law’s performance apart,m however, is the way that he’s able to balance complete insanity with some genuinely tender moments throughout the film. Audiences might forget that Dom has not only lost 12 years of his life in prison, but also a wife to cancer and he missed his daughter growing up into the Mother of Dragons…..oops….sorry, I get my media mixed up sometimes.

This brings me to Emilia Clarke, who plays Dom’s wayward daughter Evelyn. One, it’s weird to not see her with long silver hair and speaking Dothraki, and two, maybe I’m just not a huge fan of her’s.  Yes, I said it! I do not like the Khaleesi! Do I think she can act? Maybe in the right role.  I think her take on Daenerys Targaryen is fine, despite the fact I don’t like the character, but in “Hemingway” I don’t think she brings much to the table. This could be due to the fact that “Hemingway” is truly a showcase for Jude Law through and through, but even in her limited screen time I feel like she is shoehorned into the film to give Dom added conflicts in his life.

This is where I have a problem with the film. From an acting standpoint, Law is fantastic and makes the film watchable, but the plot-holes and what seems like a film simply filled with vignettes masquerading like a lesser-Wes Anderson film, falls short. Maybe I expected too much from “Hemingway” but without much of a story to work with, and a certain lack of closure come the end of the film, the only thing I could take away is Law’s performance.

Directed by Richard Shepard, who was behind the vastly underrated “The Matador” you see a lot of similarities between the two films.  Mainly the way Shepard was able to take two likable guys, Pierce Brosnan in “Matador” and Law in “Hemingway” and turn them into scumbags with a lot of emotional baggage.  Shepard has the eye for the camera, but it’s, like I said, the narrative that fails the film in the end.

Despite its shortcomings, “Hemingway” is still entirely watchable if you can look beyond some of the issues it has.  Personally, I’d love to see Law in these roles more often.  We’ve become accustomed to him as either Dr. Watson in the “Sherlock Holmes” films, or as a whiny nerd in films like “Closer” but roles like Dom Hemingway are surprisingly in his wheelhouse.

Fun Fact: Jude Law gained 30 pounds for his role in “Dom Hemingway.”

August 28, 2012

The Take

The Take: Astonishing

Here in America many shows come and go. Out of probably thousands only a few are worth watching. Unlike In the UK, where there seems to be a lot more quality shows over quantity.

The Take well its a ton of goodness.

It’s simply one of the best dramas.

The Take is based off of the novel by Martina Cole. It’s first episode came on in 2009 on Sky1 in the UK. It’s about a gangster named Freddie (played by Tom Hardy) who leaves prison and is hoping to take over the empire of his boss, Ozzy (played by Brian Cox). It takes place in the 80’s which is always a great time period. I would love to talk about this show more but I don’t want to spoil anything.

So lets talk about this show’s stunning-fantastic performances. The standout is Tom Hardy who will blow you away. His acting is beyond top notch, it really is amazing. Just wait to you see his mannerisms!

The others, Shaun Evans, Kierston Wareing, Sara Stewart, Brian Cox and Charlotte Riley complete a perfect cast that you never get to see on TV, including movies. It’s really something. Brian Cox like always gives a good performance and always is great to see on film. A big surprise for me would be Charlotte Riley who’s strong performance is something to behold (by the way she is Tom’s girl in real life, he’s damn lucky, she’s beautiful and can act, a double threat that I would like to see more of.)

It’s supporting cast is outstanding. Freddie is a psychopath, there is killing, blood, a plot that keeps you going and great cinematography. What more could you ask for? This drama is one of the best you will ever see on TV. We need more of these to watch! Especially in the US.

Tagline: He’s got family, he’s got power, but he’s got issues.

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