Tag Archives: Joel Edgerton

‘Black Mass’ Highlighted by Depp’s Chilling Work

Black_Mass_(film)_posterWelcome back, Johnny Depp. It has been a very, very long time.

“Black Mass” stars Depp as real-life mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, and chronicles his reign as the crime boss of Boston in the 70’s and 80’s, all while an undercover informant for the FBI. Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch are just two of the dozen big names that co-star as Scott Cooper directs.

They often say truth is stranger than fiction, and that is true with the Whitey Bulger story. A career criminal who tricked the FBI to arrest his enemies all while having a brother who is a state senator; Hollywood couldn’t come up with that on their own.

Like I said, it has been a while since we have seen Johnny Depp play a character we cared about in a movie that we liked. His last Oscar nomination was in 2008 for “Sweeney Todd,” and this year’s “Mortdecai” may have been the final straw, with many calling it the worst film and performance of his career. However ever since the first image of Depp as Bulger was released many have been hoping that “Black Mass” would be the shot of energy Depp’s career desperately needed, and thankfully (for both us and Depp) he turns in a near-career best performance.

Johnny Depp loves his makeup, that is no secret, and he disappears behind the wrinkles and black eyes of Whitey Bulger. Much like Jack Nicholson in “The Departed” (whose character was based off Bulger), Depp becomes more and more depraved and sadistic as the film goes on, and when the climax comes you are not sure what he is capable or willing to do.

The violence in “Black Mass” is like that of “Goodfellas”: bloody but swift. There are several well-crafted execution scenes however the most intense sequences are ones where Depp is just starring down someone from across a table not saying a word.

Speaking of “Goodfellas,” that leads me into the film’s flaws. It tries very hard to take from other gangster films, which more often than not makes us compare the film we’re watching to classic movies, and obviously it isn’t going to hold a candle to the greats. There is even a scene that tries to embody the same feel as the “funny how?” sequence from “Goodfellas,” and while it works in the moment, once it passes you realize it doesn’t hold the same weight as that Joe Pesci scene.

The payoff of the film also leaves more to be desired. The film goes from a guy getting taken out by Bulger and his crew in one scene to everything starting to get wrapped up in the next. In fact most of the film feels as if the filmmakers assume you know the Whitey Bulger story, and so it takes little time to introduce backstories, which makes us watch characters that feel more expendable than engaging (outside Depp and Joel Edgerton’s FBI agent).

Still, narrative flaws aside, there are several brilliant scenes sprinkled throughout “Black Mass,” and one in particular that may be remembered for a while. It is fantastically refreshing to see Depp return to a serious role, and I’m sure he will get some serious consideration come Oscar season. As a film, “Black Mass” is solid, but you’re going to see for Depp’s chilling performance, and it is what you will walk out remembering most.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘The Gift’ an Effective and Well-Acted Thriller

The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1This was an interesting weekend at the movies. We got an awful film (“Fantastic Four”) and an OK one (“Ricki and the Flash”), so I guess it makes sense than we are rewarded with our perseverance with an actual good movie.

“The Gift” is a psychological thriller written, directed, and starring Joel Edgerton, and follows a couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) that has recently moved from Chicago to the Los Angeles suburbs. When Gordo (Edgerton), an old classmate from school, begins to continuously stop by their house and leave them gifts (I know, right? The title makes sense now!), they realize the past may be catching up to them.

I have to be honest: when I saw this trailer, cast and release date, I thought this film was going to be a train wreck. It looked massively conventional, and no offense to Bateman but I couldn’t see him carrying a dark, non-comedic film like this. Plus it’s no secret that August is one of Hollywood’s two dumping grounds for subpar films (see: “Fantastic Four”), so I was just ready for a stupid summer “horror” film. But I was pretty wrong, because “The Gift” is a well-executed and smart psycho-thriller, and I have to give both Edgerton and Bateman props: they turn in killer performances.

I like Jason Bateman, I’m a big fan of his deadpan comedy, but like I said, I was shocked how good he is in this film. He completely surprised me here playing a man who is harboring secrets and emotions, and while he has one or two moments of straight-faced delivery that produced a chuckle, he fully dedicates himself to the role of a broken man.

Meanwhile Joel Edgerton, who we last saw putting audiences to sleep while wearing mascara in “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” excels in every part of the film he had a part in. Whether it is his chilling performance as Gordo, his steady work behind the camera, or his smart script, Edgerton’s passion project really makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable while watching, which is exactly what it is going for. You don’t know if you can believe what Gordo tells Bateman and Hall, nor what his motivations are or the extents he is willing to go.

The film features several twists, none of which really floored me (some are foreshadowed, others are easily guessable based on the genre), but the film’s sense of tension and the uneasy feeling it gives both you and the characters is near masterful.

There are some slow parts that never really lead to a payoff, and then once the film reaches its climax it kind of just ends, but just like with “Foxcatcher” I wasn’t too bothered by these things because the performances and the feeling that we’re building towards an explosion had me too invested to care.

“The Gift” is a very well-acted and well-directed film, and it may make you start to question your relationships with the people around you now, as well as those from your past. It isn’t anything revolutionary, but in a summer of big-budget sequels and animated creatures, it is nice to see something be small and effective. I guess you could say “The Gift” is a real, come on and say it with me, effective and rewarding thriller.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Exodus’: The Book Was Better

Exodus2014Poster            Oh, Hollywood. Yet another example of one of your movies being not as good as the book on which it is based.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is the retelling of the age-old story about how Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Christian Bale stars as Moses, Joel Edgerton plays the Pharaoh Ramesses, and Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley and John Turturro all co-star. Ridley Scott directs.

Earlier this year we got another Bible epic, “Noah”, which was met to mixed responses but I personally enjoyed. Some people complained that director Darren Aronofsky took too much liberty with the story (you know, rock giants, and all), but I was for the most part willing to accept the film for what it was. And when compared to “Exodus”, “Noah” looks like a biblical masterpiece.

There is just so much going on in “Exodus” and almost none of it is done well, and even the parts that are properly executed have been done before and been done better. The plagues are all visually impressive, and we get some engaging bird’s eye shots of ancient Egypt, but I mean it’s 2014; if your film doesn’t have good CGI at this point then you’re well behind the eight ball.

Speaking of the plagues, the direction they chose to take them was interesting. Instead of direct punishment from God, the film places blame on natural causes and chain-of-events, such as the Nile becoming polluted and killing the fish, which led to an overabundance of frogs, and so forth.

The acting in the film is all pretty standard, even with Bale trying his best. He has a few riveting moments as the historical figure, but the script is so flat and the character development is so non-existent that his efforts are wasted.

The film begins with adult Moses and Ramesses going into battle, so we only learn of their relationship as adopted brothers through stories and narration. When Moses returns after nine years of banishment, we do not see how the two brothers’ relationship is strained or how having to become enemies has placed stress on them. The film simply continues to go through the motions.

Ramesses is a one-dimensional character, whom we root against simply because the movie tells us to. By the time the big confrontation at the Red Sea arrives, you feel no real urge to root for his demise or see him or his army defeated (I mean, kind of spoiler, but you’ve had over 3,000 years to read the story).

Finally, the running time of this movie. Oh my God, the run time. To paraphrase “The Social Network”, since this thing started I think I may have missed a birthday. After learning of his true identity, Moses is exiled from Egypt for nine years. In all honestly, it felt like this movie lasted longer than Moses’ banishment. It is so painfully paced and at times uneventful, I brainstormed this whole paragraph while watching the film.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” has huge ambitions but it showed limited effort to try and meet them. Bale elevates a bland script to the best of his ability, and the plagues and parting of the Red Sea are all good looking, but the film as a whole feels empty, and scenes that should be emotionally stirring range from tedious to almost laughable. I will leave you with an imploration to watch “Noah”, a biblical film that at its height is grand and awe-striking, and at its low is still much better than anything “Exodus” thought it was.

Critics Rating: 3/10