Much has been made of Black Mass being a comeback of sorts for… MoreMuch has been made of Black Mass being a comeback of sorts for prolific A-lister Johnny Depp, and that he is "acting again." I'll be the first to admit that Depp has made a string of misfires in the last few years, but the idea that he does not act even in shit movies is a misconception. It's dismissive and it diverts attention away from the movie at hand, which is quite impressive. Black Mass follows the true life story of Boston mobster Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger and his infamous alliance with members of the FBI during the late 1970's and 80's. Fans of Batman lore may recall a triumvirate formed between GCPD Commissioner Gordon, D.A. Harvey Dent, and the Dark Knight himself. That successful, but ultimately doomed, alliance was formed in the name of justice to break the hold of the Italian mob families of Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni over Gotham City. Here, we have a real life mirror opposite - a small-time South Boston Irish gang, led by Bulger, allies itself with two young, ambitious FBI agents in the name of greed in order to destroy the remnants of the Italian mafia in Boston. This created a power vacuum in the criminal underworld - allowing Jimmy Bulger to become the king of Boston until the 90's.
Black Mass plays out mostly as a Scorsese-inspired crime drama with a distinctive cold tone. Johnny Depp's turn as "Whitey" Bulger easily ranks as some of his best work and my personal favorite since Public Enemies. His Bulger is a predator, as he looks at his fellow man as little more than food - something to be manipulated or consumed. Joel Edgerton (who is on FIRE recently) deserves notice for Agent John Connolly, a man who worships and respects his childhood friend turned criminal and is willing to sacrifice his integrity and freedom for that friendship and societal advancement. Mass is all about the long pauses and indifference to most of its self-absorbed, doomed characters. It follows the broad historical strokes of its source material without sacrificing artistic depth. The audience very well may find itself engaged for most of its runtime, even with the dearth of likeable or relatable characters. It does become a bit of a funeral dirge in the third act and the massive time jumps at the end were quite random and disorienting. Black Mass is still an exceptional piece and easily an awards season contender.
A mostly underrated and overlooked thriller, No Escape is an effective… MoreA mostly underrated and overlooked thriller, No Escape is an effective and tense piece that doesn't quite manage to become a truly memorable or great film. Concerning an American family trying to escape an unnamed Southeast Asian county in the midst of a violent coup, this film displays an almost nihilistic and cold demeanor as it kills most of the characters on screen in a variety of gruesome ways.
The film has been marked by most reviewers as xenophobic and racist, which I argue is completely unfair. I myself, will confess to being sympathetic to the politics and ideologies of the American left, but I sometimes wish my fellow liberals would get the fuck off their high horse at times. (Critics often tend to be liberals, as film criticism is an academic profession.) We cannot be so blinded by our obsession with political correctness as to ignore the often violent nature of the developing world. THIS SHIT HAPPENS. Take a brief glance at the ISIS occupied regions of Syria and Iraq and you will find worse atrocities than the ones on display here. Furthermore, the movie acquits itself in a couple different ways, as the main villains seem more interested in killing other native-born citizens than white foreigners as the film drags on, mirroring similar situations in real life. Additionally, No Escape makes direct commentary on Western economic corporate imperialism and condemns it - placing it as the source of the violence on screen and in the actual third world. And the rescuing heroes at the end of the film are in fact (SPOILER) Vietnamese soldiers who grant our heroes amnesty and protection. Huh. Twenty First Century indeed.
Owen Wilson proves again that he can handle lead roles outside of his usual comfort zone of over-the-top comedies, and Lake Bell deserves a nod for some subtle heavy lifting in many emotional scenes. My personal favorite would easily be Pierce Brosnan who in addition to being the one true badass on screen, also provides much needed humor and a lot of the writer's worldview and commentary. The film moves from one set piece to the next at a relatively quick pace and a couple stand out, such as the hotel rooftop scene, which is notably tense and horrific. Despite its merits, No Escape fails to have the impact it might have had, partially due to its very neutral stance and simple message, but also a true lack of bite beyond the onscreen violence. (A similar film to this which DOES have some staying power is Blood Diamond.) This is a rental or download title to be sure, but it does deserve that one look.