From the mean streets of Southie to the sprawling Mexico-United States border.
Black Mass doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s a collection of cinematic vignettes about the rise of South Boston’s most notorious gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger, from the 1970s to the 1990s. Near the beginning of his rise, he started to work with FBI Agent John Connolly, in what could loosely be called a mutually beneficial relationship.
Unfortunately, Black Mass has major issues outside of its solid acting. There’s no identity here; it’s an homage to other gangster movies, with Goodfellas being a major one. Nothing feels new or original or particularly compelling and that’s Death Row for an oversaturated genre like this one.
So thank the good Lord that Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton are thoroughly immersed in their roles as Bulger and Connolly, respectively. Depp has significantly altered his appearance for many of his films and he takes that approach here as well; his entire face is an unsettling combination of Johnny Knoxville’s infamous grandpa character and the Green Goblin’s ghoulish visage. His eyes are unnaturally blue, piercing into his friends and foes alike with an icy, unrelenting gaze.
Yet his actual performance is understated. He has his moments – most notable when he’s discussing the ethics of bad behavior and getting caught with his son and when he’s grilling one of Connolly’s fellow FBI comrades who gives up a secret family recipe a little too easily for his liking – but Edgerton is the real bedrock of the movie, as he is in many of his projects, and his character’s story arc is just as interesting as Bulger’s.
Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch is Billy Bulger, Whitey’s younger brother and someone who holds political office. Cumberbatch needs no aid to look bizarre – look me in the eyes and tell me he doesn’t look like a dead shark that’s been bloating on a beach in the stifling heat of an August summer day. To even conceive of the notion that Cumberbatch and Depp might be related in some manner is most absurd, although that very noticeable difference is the perfect analogy to describe Black Mass as a whole.
Black Mass embraces extreme differences, like beautiful cinematography with brutal killing and Bulger’s love for his boy versus his paranoia about everyone else. Too bad it doesn’t embrace itself. Instead, it tries to emulate movies we’ve already seen ad nauseum.
Sicario is bleak, depressing, and gritty. But that’s what happens when you’re talking about drug trafficking and the ethically ambiguous ways our government might be willing to handle that chronic problem. You see things in this movie: decomposing bodies strategically placed behind drywall in a suburban Arizona home, the disturbing violence in Juarez, Mexico, like beheadings and disfigured bodies languidly dangling from bridges and roofs.
It’s serious business, although if we’re being honest, Sicario is an action movie from top to bottom. It also happens to be one of the year’s best movies and that’s because everything about it is exceptional.
Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro are revelations to observe, with Blunt embracing a role where she needs to show steely resolve and inner strength while also progressively losing control of her surroundings and any idea of what her objective truly is. Del Toro is typecast, perhaps, but he certainly runs with it and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to accumulate some serious hardware when awards seasons starts.
The action is precise – almost clinically so – and violent in the most balanced way. Visually Sicario is gorgeous, with violent sunsets streaked with blazing orange and melancholy blue and hovering landscape shots similar to what you see in True Detective that comfort you for not watching Everest instead.
You can tell a lot about a movie based on its soundtrack and in that regard, Sicario stands out once again. Composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, it is an eerie yet throbbing soundtrack that meshes well with the action and exposition too, even.
Sicario is what happens when you make a complete package and if someone gets a copy of that sick poster, hook this guy up ASAP.