Mini-Review – Underworld: Blood Wars, Sleepless, Patriots Day, Live By Night & The Bye Bye Man

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This is a longer one than usual, due to me falling behind. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Underworld: Blood Wars

Director: Anna Foerster

Writer: Cory Goodman

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head and Charles Dance.

Synopsis: Vampire death dealer, Selene fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.

 

The Underworld series started off as an interesting franchise that had some cool mythology and made Kate Beckinsale a big name to those not familiar with her. The sequel came along and was just okay which lead to a prequel for the third film. Then the fourth film came out and things took a turn for the worse. The series had lost its footing and became lost in its attempt to make itself relevant. This now leads us to Underworld: Blood Wars, which is more of the same, but thankfully better than Underworld: Awakening, which isn’t saying much really.

Blood Wars starts off by giving us a bit of a refresher on the series so far – leaving some things out – but also shows that Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is now a fugitive from the remaining vampires and new Lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), who wants the location of Selene’s daughter. The problem is that even Selene doesn’t know where her daughter is, and with the help of David (Theo James), his father Thomas (Charles Dance), and a vampire council member Semira (Lara Pulver), Selene is brought back into the fold to help deal with Marius.

Like I mentioned, Blood Wars is more of the same from the previous films – stylized action set-pieces, new mythology and characters being introduced and Kate Beckinsale in tight leather kicking-ass. Other than that, the film doesn’t really do anything that feels substantial. Things are brought up that would be considered twists or could have landed bigger if written better or anything the film did actually mattered.

The film is too rushed for its own good. Everything lands too quickly, and the final act of the film just happens. One particular part in the final act does mean something since it’s connected to the beginning of the film, but other than that the final act is structurally not sound.

When it comes to the cast, they all do the best they can with what they are given. Kate Beckinsale is the only real saving grace of the cast since she’s played the part so many times now. Theo James is just as bland as he was in the last film, while Tobias Menzies’ Marius is supposed to be this great Lycan leader, but doesn’t really do anything that frightening – also his cheap two dollar CGI wolf character doesn’t do him any favors. Lara Pulver as Semira could have been a great character if she had more screen time as could have Clementine Nicholson’s Lena, who is part of a new vampire clan, Finally, Charles Dance’s Thomas should have had more time, because you know, its Charles freaking Dance.

All in all, Underworld: Blood Wars is a passable sequel, and a better one than Awakening, but again, that’s not saying much. Things feel like they just happen, and the structure of the film is just off that you can never really feel any sort of enjoyment. One thing that really bothered me is the ending. I obviously don’t want to spoil it, but considering how it ends, it just felt like the whole film was for nothing.

Underworld: Blood Wars

2.5 out of 5

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Sleepless

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Scoot McNairy, Gabrielle Union, Octavius J. Johnson, T.I., Dermot Mulroney, and David Harbour

Synopsis: A cope with a connection to the criminal underworld scours a nightclub in search of his kidnapped son.

 

A remake of the French film Nuit Blanche, Sleepless takes place mostly in one location and is surprising a little better than I thought it would be, even though I had watched the original film years before.

Sleepless follows Las Vegas officer Vincent Downs (Jaime Foxx), who along with his partner Sean (T.I.) steal a bag of cocaine at the beginning of the film. Little do they know, the cocaine belongs to a crooked casino boss Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) who is going to sell the drugs to the dangerous Rob Novak (Scott McNairy), the son of a local mob boss. In order to get the drugs back, they kidnap Vincent’s son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) and demand he return their product. Of course, things don’t go over smoothly as Internal Affairs agents Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (David Harbour) become involved.

Like I mentioned, the film is a little better than I thought it was going to be, but Sleepless does run into some issues throughout. The film doesn’t do Jamie Foxx any favors besides making him look like an action hero. Foxx’s usual charisma is put on the backburner so he can be almost stoic at times, which is a bit of a shame. Although, the result does lead to impressive fight scenes, including a kitchen scene and a highly impressive hotel room fight.

The rest of the cast do their best with what they are given. Scoot McNairy is one of the best underrated and unknown actors around, and while he plays a villain well, they could have done just a little more with him. Michelle Monaghan plays the straight-laced IA agent who has her moments, and after watching this, I hope we see more roles like this from her, and her chemistry with the always reliable David Harbour is spot on. Dermot Mulroney looked like he enjoy playing a slimy villain, Gabrielle Union only has a handful of scenes, so her casting feels wasted and T.I. also has only a few scenes but all of his scenes feel the same when you look back afterwards.

All in all, Sleepless feels a bit hallow at times, but it does have its moments that make the price of admission worth it.

Sleepless

3.5 out of 5

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Patriots Day

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Jimmy O. Yang, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, James Colby, Michael Beach, Vincent Curatola, Jake Picking, Melissa Benoist, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: An account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorist responsible.

 

Considering Patriots Day is based off a real event, and one that I’m sure most of us remembering watching on TV as the events unfolded, I’m going to play with the “no spoilers” rule here a bit. The film follows the events at the Boston Marathon and what the first responders and FBI did to find and capture the Tsarnaev brothers.

The film has a lot of players on the board, we mostly follow Boston Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a made up character based on several people, who is at the finish line of the marathon when the first bomb went off. The events bring everyone is like Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) to find Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) which involved shutting down all of Boston and lead to a dangerous shootout in Watertown.

Peter Berg really does have a knack for true-story films, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon were great films, and all star Mark Wahlberg, but the thing that makes these films, along with Patriots Day is how he handles the material. Berg treats the events with tremendous respect and never tries to feed the audience a political agenda or lean the audience a certain way. He lets the story tell itself and lets the characters come to life in their own way, even though most of the characters are based on real people. It’s also a credit to the great cast that they are able to do so.

However, with a big cast like this, the film does have a lot of characters to follow that a lot of them don’t get real time to breathe and don’t get the justice they deserve. J.K. Simmons has a small, but good, role as the Watertown sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O’Shea play couple Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes who were close to the first blast sight, Jake Picking plays Officer Sean Collier, who was shot by the brothers, and Jimmy O. Yang plays Dun Meng, who has a dangerous encounter with brothers halfway through the film. Another thing Patriots Day falls into is some pacing issues before the final act of the film, but again, it’s the cast the keep the film together.

Two of the highlights of the film, if that’s what you want to call it considering the nature of the real life events, is the aftermath of the bombing. How Berg moves the camera through the destruction and through the eyes of Tommy is both horrifying and telling on how the first responders probably felt when they helped so many that day. The other is the shootout before Dzhokhar runs and hides in the boat he was later recovered from.

All in all, Patriots Day isn’t an easy film to watch due to the nature of the events and how Berg was able to recreate it. The cast, despite being one person too many, does a tremendous job paying respect to people they were playing and to those affected by the actions that happened that horrible day and what happened afterwards.

Patriots Day

4 out of 5

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Live by Night

Director: Ben Affleck

Writer: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Robert Glenister, Remo Girone, Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson

Synopsis: A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Based off the novel by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes and directs what has become a bit of a passion project for him, so it’s a bit odd to see what became of the film. Affleck has shown he’s a great to solid director with films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, but Live by Night will be – hopefully – the only blemish on his resume.

Ben Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a former World War I soldier and son of a police officer (Brendan Gleeson), who returns home and starts to see himself as an outlaw and runs heists throughout Boston. He eventually falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), who happens to be the mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). This puts him on the sights on White’s rival, Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) who wants Joe to work for him. Joe eventually does and Maso sends him down to Tampa to run his bootlegging operation. Once there, and reunited with his old partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) and they make a nice empire for themselves. That all changes when Joe starts falling in love with Graciela (Zoe Saldana), and struggles to keep his moral code in place.

Live by Night is unfortunately a bit of a mess, which is odd considering Affleck was passionate about getting the film made, and took so long to make. That’s not to say there is some great stuff within the mess, but it is the scattered material that keeps the film from being great. Not only that, the film has a bit too much going on that by the end, it feels like the film is forcing itself to tie-up the loose ends that were introduced beforehand. It’s a bit of a shame too, considering Affleck has shown he can handle himself with great material.

The cast itself is great, but it’s a shame that some characters don’t have time to expand and get developed more. Chris Messina, who is always great with the right material, playing Joe’s right-hand man Dion Bartolo could have used more time onscreen as could Elle Fanning’s character Loretta, the daughter of Tampa sheriff Figgis played by Chris Cooper. Especially considering Fanning is involved in a big subplot. Zoe Saldana also pops in but doesn’t really do much after her initial introduction, and reminding Joe that he doesn’t need to be cruel to do the life he’s involved in. Brendan Gleeson’s glorified cameo suffers just a bit due to him using his natural Scottish accent that makes it a little hard to understand. Sienna Miller’s character could have been an interesting character, but her arc gets cut too soon.

Affleck does okay as the Joe, and even though we follow him throughout the film his moments of doubt and morality being tested are usually rushed to the point that it just feels like Affleck is trying to get to the next scene, which is odd considering the film is over two hours. When it comes to working with his production designer and cinematographer, he works well. Every scenic shot is beautiful to look at, and the sets look amazing.

All in all, Live by Night has some issues that could have been avoided, but sadly they aren’t which hurts the film in the long run. The cast is great, but none of their characters are developed fully or pushed to the wayside to tell Ben Affleck’s Joe story. While the action scenes are top-notch, Live by Night is just a tad underwhelming in the long run, but in no way should change your view on Affleck’s directing ability.

Live by Night

3.5 out of 5

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The Bye Bye Man

Director: Stacy Title

Writer: Jonathan Penner

Cast: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Jenna Kanell, Michael Trucco, Cleo King, Leigh Whannel, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway

Synopsis: Three friends stumble upon the horrific origins of the Bye Bye Man, a mysterious figure they discover is the root cause of the evil behind man’s most unspeakable acts.

 

It’s a bit of a shame that after the great year horror had last year – finally – a film like this comes along and washes all that away. Apparently based off a story called “The Bridge to Body Island” by Robert Damon Schneck, The Bye Bye Man has an interesting concept that falls apart once the film gets going. That’s only the beginning of this film’s issues.

The film follows three college friends in Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and their friend John (Lucien Laviscount) who buy and move into an old house off campus. Everyone seems okay at first until Elliot finds an old coin on his nightstand left by the previous owner. He then discovers writing underneath the drawer that says “Don’t Think it, Don’t Say it” and under that are craved words “The Bye Bye Man.” At first he laughs it off, but when the three start experiencing strange things in and out of the house, they soon learn The Bye Bye Man (played by the awesome character actor Doug Jones) is indeed real, and after them.

One of the problems with The Bye Bye Man – one of many – is we don’t get a sense of the characters, and hardly care for them. Elliot is the closet one to actually having a backstory, while Sasha is just the girlfriend who, at the beginning, tries to convince Elliot that what is happening is real, but after Elliot goes along with it, she becomes a bit annoying, and John somewhat disappears for a bit and we really don’t miss him. Jenna Kanell pops in as Sasha’s friend Kim, who is a psychic of sorts and, based off the trailers, is the one that gets killed by the train, which is the highlight of her character.

However, the saving graces of the film – cast wise – is the small roles by Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway and Leigh Whannell. Faye Dunaway appears near the end of the film and adds to some backstory of The Bye Bye Man, Carrie-Anne Moss plays a local detective that could have been played by really anyone else, but Moss adds some gravitas to the role. Leigh Whannell plays Larry Redmond a writer that “discovers” The Bye Bye Man and is involved in the best scenes in the film: flashbacks. Finally, Doug Jones does this best he can with what he’s given as the titular character.

All in all, the concept of the film sounds good at first, but once we start seeing what he does and really think about it afterwards, The Bye Bye Man fails to execute on its promise. The characters are bland and are never developed and a muddled story doesn’t help. The Bye Bye Man is almost passable film while watching, but nothing you’ll remember.

The Bye Bye Man

2 out of 5

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Let me know what you think.

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December Movie Releases

It’s December, ladies and gentlemen!

The year is almost over! How has your year been, because it’s been a great year for films, huh? December is also a tough month to set, because this is the big Oscar month, so a lot of films end up getting limited releases, expansion releases, and then wide releases. So if anything is off, it’s because of that. I’ll do my best to get everything where it’s suppose to go, and if not I’ll come back and update the schedule.  So let’s jump right in the films that will close out the year.

Also, Happy Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate!

 

2nd

Limited Release: Jackie (Biography Drama – Fox Searchlight Pictures/Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch)

Following the assassination of her husband, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children and define her husband’s historic legacy. The film has gotten a lot of love at the film festival circuit, and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It probably helped that this film has been in the works for a long time too. Jackie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudip, Max Casella, Richard E. Grant, and Caspar Phillipson.

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Limited Release: La La Land (Drama Comedy Musical)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for La La Land which follows a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. The film is getting a ton of great reviews from the film festival circuit so this one is one you should keep your eye out for. Also the trailer really gives off the vibe that the film will be a nice tribute to films of old. The film also stars Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, Jason Fuchs, Hemky Madera, and J.K. Simmons.

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Incarnate (Horror Thriller – Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions/WWE Studios/IM Global/High Top Releasing/Deep Underground Films)

A scientist with the ability to enter the subconscious minds of the possessed must save a young boy from the grips of a demon with powers never seen before, while facing the horrors of his past. The film stars Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz, Emjay Anthony, Matt Nable, and Catalina Sandino Moreno.

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9th

Expanded/Wide Release: Nocturnal Animals

Expanded Release: La La Land

Expanded Release: Jackie

 

 

Office Christmas Party (Comedy – Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/Bluegrass Films)

When his uptight CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager thrown an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand. The film also stars T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Jason Bateman, Rob Corddry, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Randall Park, Matt Walsh and Courtney B. Vance.

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16th

Limited Release: The Founder (Biography Drama)

Michael Keaton stars in this film that tells the story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. I don’t think I’ve ever actually thought about the story of McDonald’s and since I’ve seen the trailer, it’s peaked my interest and I’m sure to many others as well. The rest of the cast includes Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, B.J. Novak, and John Carroll Lynch.

 

 

Collateral Beauty (Drama – New Line Cinema/Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Anonymous Content/Likely Star/PalmStar Media)

An advertising executive encounters three mysterious figures who encourage him to move on from the past. The film looks like it’s going to be a powerhouse with the cast, but the idea does seem odd, and one that you can probably figure out from the trailers. Hopefully the execution works. Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Michael Pena, and Helen Mirren star.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Sci-Fi Adventure –Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm)

Gareth Edwards directs the first spinoff/standalone film of the new set of Star Wars films, which actually takes us back in time as it follows Rebels on a mission to steal plans for the Death Star. Listen, it’s Star Wars, people are going to go watch it. However, the film’s last two trailers were freaking awesome, of course the film however, will have some closer eyes as the “dirty” word in Hollywood has hit the film: reshoots. Nonetheless, the film looks great and more importantly it looks different. The film stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, and Forest Whittaker.

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21st

Sing (Animation – Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment)

A koala named Buster (Matthew McConaughey) recruits his best friend to help him drum up business for his theater by hosting a singing competition. I don’t know if I’m over talking animal animated film this year, but I’m not getting behind the Sing train. The voice cast also includes Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, John C. Reilly, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Nick Offerman, Peter Serafinowicz,  and Jennifer Saunders.

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Patriots Day (Lionsgate/CBS Films/Closest to the Hole Productions)

Directed by Peter Berg, the film is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s (played by John Goodman) actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Berg has already made a splash this year with Deepwater Horizon with Mark Wahlberg, so I can only think that this will be either as good or just as good. Patriots Day also stars J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Melissa Benoist, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, and Rachel Brosnahan.

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Passengers (Sci-Fi Adventure – Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/LStar Capital/Original Film/Start Motion Pictures/Company Films)

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) are awakened 90 years early. Two of the most liked and extremely talented actors in Hollywood are getting together for a film, and one that looks not too bad, I think we looking at a big hit here, don’t you think? Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia also star.

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Assassin’s Creed (Action – 20th Century Fox)

Based on the popular video game franchise, Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, who with the help of revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, The Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. Justin Kurzel, who directed the well-received and great film Macbeth, directs and reunites not only with Fassbender but Marion Cotillard as well. The film also stars Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Mathias Varela, Brian Gleeson, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

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23rd

Limited Release: A Monster Calls (Fantasy Drama – Focus Features/Participant Media/River Road Entertainment/Apaches Entertainment/La Trini)

Based on a script and book by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls follows a boy as he seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom terminal illness. The film stars Liam Neeson as The Monster, Felicity Jones as the Mother, Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother, Toby Kebbell as Dad, and Lewis MacDougall as the boy and Lily-Rose Aslandogdu as Lily. The film looks fantastic and I can’t wait to see how it does. The limited release is due to Focus Features trying to get the film an Oscar run. The film will come out early next year.

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Limited Release: Silence (Drama)

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based off the novel by Shusaku Endo, the film is set in the seventeenth century, where we follow two Jesuit priests that face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. The film has been looking for a release date and what better date to come out in than in December around Oscar season right? The film stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Tadanobu Asano.

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Why Him? (Comedy – 20th Century Fox/Red Hour Films/21 Laps Entertainment)

A dad (Bryan Cranston) forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend (James Franco). The film looks decently funny, at least we can hope, and seeing Cranston on the big screen is always nice – even if it’s a film like this. The film stars Zoey Deutch, and Megan Mullally.

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25th

Limited Release: 20th Century Women (Comedy Drama)

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s. The film stars Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Alia Shawkat, Laura Wiggins, and Billy Crudup.

 

Limited Release: Paterson (Drama Comedy) 

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet, who also happens to be named Paterson (Adam Driver). I saw the trailer for the first time recently, and it looks like a great little indie film that will showcase Adam Driver.

 

Limited Release: Hidden Figures (Drama)

Based on a true story, a team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical date needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kristen Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, and Kevin Costner.

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Limited Release: Live By Night

Based off the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes, directs and stars in this great looking film that is set during the Prohibition and follows Joe Coughlin, the son of a prominent Boston police captain, as he rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld and the trouble he falls into along the way. Besides the film looking great, it has a great cast in Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Michael Hall, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Chris Messina, and Chris Cooper.

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Fences (Drama – Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions/Bron Studios/MACRO)

Based on the play by August Wilson, and directed by Denzel Washington, Fences follows an African American father who struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. The film stars Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson.

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So, what are you looking forward to?

‘Black Mass’ Review

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Director: Scott Cooper

Writer(s): Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Julianne Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll

Synopsis: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I fell behind on my movie watching, so some anticipate some more reviews this week*

 

Black Mass is based on the book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and based on the true life of arguably one of the most notorious gangsters ever, James “Whitey” Bulger. Whether or not all the events in the film happen or not – two of the real life people that rolled with Bulger say some stuff was not true – the film is a brooding, dark, gritty and tremendously acted film.

 

The film stars in 1975 as we get an idea of who James, or Jimmy, “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is to the people surrounded by him. The film is introduced by Kevin Weeks (Plemons) as he’s being integrated and says that Bulger was a small time guy and suddenly he became one of the biggest names in South Boston or Southie as they called it. From there we’re introduced to John Connolly (Edgerton), who has returned to Boston and has joined the FBI. His first ambitious move, reunite with his childhood friend Bulger and convince him to join forces to take down the Mafia running North Boston. Bulger seeing this as an opportunity to take down the competition agrees and here is what beings his reign as the kingpin of Boston.

 

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The film isn’t just about Bulger, the film is also about John Connolly. The two get the same amount of screen time and Connolly gets his hands a bit dirty in his own way as much as Bulger. Connolly thinks Bulger is the FBI’s saving grace against the Mafia in Boston and it clouds his judgment from time to time, and it makes him – arguably – as corrupt as Bulger. All of it, done well by the great and always reliable Joel Edgerton.

 

Here is where I run into a problem with Black Mass. The film itself is just okay, but it is elevated thanks to the performances of the impressive and huge cast. Depp and Edgerton at the forefront and the supporting cast play their parts well. Depp is back to true form here. This is the kind of films I like Depp in, where he show his true potential and great acting prowess. Forget the wacky roles that he’s been playing for years now, it is when he plays a serious and real character that you remember how great he is, and playing Bulger is one of those roles. He’s terrifying and intimidating when he has to be, that includes scenes with Dakota Johnson’s Lindsey Cyr and Julianne Nicholson’s Marianne Connolly, the wife of John Connolly. As good as he is as Bulger, he can also be rather charming when he has to be, which is rather odd to see after all the scenes that involve him being a terrible person.

 

Edgerton, on the other hand, has his fair share of great moments with and without Depp, but his character at times is so blinded by the myth that is Bulger that he becomes a bit distracted of his real duties as an FBI agent. He also becomes a bit cocky that he managed to get one of the most wanted criminals the bureau ever wanted to work for them instead of taking him down.

 

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The supporting cast all plays their parts on point and all have their moments to shine, considering how big the film is. Jesse Plemons’ Kevin Weeks and Rory Cochrane’s Steve Flemmi provide framing devices for the most part, but also Bulger’s most loyal allies that will follow him to the end, as does W. Earl Brown as John Martorano. David Harbour’s John Morris plays the more conflicted FBI agent when it comes to working with Bulger and has one of the best and most tension filled scenes that involves a recipe. Kevin Bacon pops in as head of the FBI section in Boston as Charles McGuire as does the surprise cast member of Adam Scott as Robert Fitzpatrick.

 

Unfortunately, some cast members don’t fare that well as others. Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple are the only real female characters in the film, but it feels like they don’t much as characters. Johnson and Nicholson have more substance to their roles but Johnson disappears after the first half hour of the film and her scenes with Depp are the best at getting some dimension from Depp’s Bulger, and you miss it afterwards. Corey Stoll appears at the end as new District Attorney Fred Wyshak and Peter Sarsgaard’s Brian Halloran is a bit all over the place and although his character calls for it, I could have seen anyone else playing that role. Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays U.S Senator Billy Bulger has literally about ten minutes – if that – of screen time and has only one real good scene with Edgerton near the beginning of the film. His brotherly connection to Jimmy Bulger isn’t even touched on too much, and they only have a couple scenes together. It’s kind of a shame really.

 

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So despite the great cast and performances, Black Mass doesn’t really do much in getting us more in the head of Bulger. It does early on with the scenes with Johnson’s Cyr but that’s about it. We don’t get more into his head at all and it probably tries to make up for it by giving those conflicted moral scenes to Edgerton’s Connolly, but great acting only takes you so far.

 

All in all, Black Mass is filled with by great performances led by Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton. The film is a bit grim and hard to watch in some scenes, but the slow burn to the film may turn off some viewers anyway. Black Mass isn’t the perfect film or tale of Bulger’s legacy, but it worth the watch.

 

Black Mass

4 out of 5

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