I’ll admit, I knew little to nothing about Whitey Bulger before seeing this film. Sadly, by the end of it, I really feel like I still don’t know much about him.
Brief synopsis: Black Mass is based on the true story of a criminal-turned-informant-turned-crimelord; what began as a joint effort to take down the Boston Italian mob lead to the creation of a power-mad monster – a man who couldn’t be stopped simply because blood is thicker than water.
I want to believe that this film is a portrait of a man who was simply looking out for himself and his community, but I can’t help but think that the heart of the piece is lost in the grit, as is motivation. Maybe that was the idea? Perhaps Scott Cooper wanted to portray a first-person look the rise and violent fall of an empire? Nah, I’m probably just looking too far into it.
Though origin tales are overdone, I really would have appreciated a small look into the turn to crime – just a small taste of what made this man so methodically vicious.
On the upside, the performances were great. Like really, really great – even Rolling Stone thinks that Johnny Depp’s take on Bulger might be the cusp of an oncoming Deppessaince. And as advertised, this puppy has a hell of an ensemble – though, it was weird seeing Benedict Cumberbatch pull off a Boston accent.
Despite my gripes about the storytelling, I honestly feel that Black Mass is a welcomed addition to American crime drama. The pacing and tone are perfectly matched by well-crafted cinematography (thank you, Masanobu Takayangi), and the score just adds to this dreary, tense agglomeration (dreary and tense in the best possible way, of course). Personally, I think if there was just a bit more, well, personality, or more definition, this might be one of the better dramas of the year. But that’s just me.
Final Grade: B
American Hustle is the sort of true story of the ABSCAM operation that went down in the late 1970s, as told from the perspectives of the con artists brought in by the FBI to aid in the sting. Rather than your typical dramatic biopic, we’re given more of a caricatured portrayal of a time and place, crafting an experience that is not only fun and flashy, but also touches on real-life drama without going too over-the-top. It’s actually pretty impressive.
When dealing with a cast of this magnitude, it’s really hard to pinpoint which star shines the brightest, especially given the fact that the entire leading cast (sans Jeremy Renner) has been nominated for an Oscar. Many would argue Christian Bale chews the most scenery out of the bunch: Irving Rosenfeld comes off as a cartoonish, sweet-talking buffoon, but he’s actually portrayed with a great deal of depth and charisma. Personally, I feel as if everyone did a wonderful job…except that lady playing Bradley Cooper’s fiancé. She only had one line, and she delivered it as flatly as possible (I’d link a clip if I could). Did anyone else notice her? Regardless, I won’t let that ruin my good time.
At first I was a little concerned about the portrayal of the ladies in this film, considering the male focus as well as the power-struggle theme. At first they seem typically shallow and manipulative, and especially in Rosalyn’s (Jennifer Lawrence) case, stereotypically crazy. Then you have to remember, these are meant to be caricatures of actual people – these people are bold and flashy and act accordingly. However, with the every instance of garish insanity, there is heart behind the performance – as only Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence can deliver.
American Hustle is incredibly solid film. Any worry that these stars would outshine each other is quickly effaced while they play off of each other splendidly. On the whole it’s just a really good time – the costumes and sets are fantastic, and the soundtrack and score could not have been better. Would I call it “mind-blowing?” No, not particularly. But is it worth checking out? Absolutely.
Final Grade: A