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A Review Of Jonny Depp's Brilliant Mob Movie, 'Black Mass.'
A Review Of Jonny Depp's Brilliant Mob Movie, 'Black Mass.'
There is a term in the art of Acting call 'stretching,' which simply means an actor's ability to bring a uniqueness to a role and play it with conviction. It is not hyperbole to say that no modern actor - since Marlon Brando, Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep and Samuel L. Jackson - has done more 'stretching' with such conviction than the gifted actor, Jonny Depp. This is an actor who modeled his franchised role (Pirates of The Caribbean) of Captain Jack Sparrow off his musical mentor, the drug-addled lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards. Anyone who has seen Keith Richards and has watched Mr. Depp's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow knows that the latter was spot on with his 'stretching' and so it is again with Depp's Oscar-worthy portrayal of the notorious Boston mobster, James 'Whitey' Bugler. It is hard to believe that Johnny Depp is the actor whom I saw brutally murdered by Freddy Krueger in the original Nightmare on Elm Street or that it is that same Johnny Depp whom I watched as a boy in the detective show, 21 Jump Street - of course back then, I watched 21 Jump Street because of Holly Robinson Peete.
What is so brilliant about Mr. Depp's Black Mass is that we all know what took place and how it ends, yet its brilliance is in the fact that the movie and Depp can surprise us, notwithstanding the fact that we are privy to said ending. The plot of Black Mass is about how the FBI was used by the Boston mobster as a cover, while Whitey murdered his rivals and pretended to 'rat out' rival Italian gangsters. What is also so noteworthy and worthy of a Shakespeare plot is the fact that Whitey's childhood friend, who grew up and who is now an actual FBI agent, is the one who came up with the idea and convinced the FBI to use Whitey as an informant - to further complicate matters, or moreover, as an added convenience for Whitey is the fact that his brother is a famous Boston politician. With that back drop, we have the plotline for Black Mass.
The milieu of Boston in the 70s... with the attire and cars take you back there and gives you a feel how desperate the FBI was then in wiping out the mobsters, which caused the FBI to make Faustian deals with minor devils to catch bigger devils. We have seen such questionable, controversial dealings right here in New York - where Sammy the Bull Gravano was given light sentences, notwithstanding that he murdered some 18 souls - to bring down John Gotti. And so it was with Whitey's usage of the FBI via his childhood friend to do the Mob's dirty work... implicating the FBI in murder among other crimes. Black Mass is a testament - like most mob movies - on how greed can drive many of us to carry out unspeakable acts of wanton wickedness or turn a blind eye to such acts because of malignant blind ambition, in the case of Whitey's FBI childhood friend who eventually knew his mobster friend was committing murders, but saw fit or even to run interference, so as to receive FBI promotions by taking down other mobsters.
Paranoia is part and parcel of being a mobster and in Black Mass this too is the case. There is a sick, twisted scene where Mr. Depp is checking on his friend's wife, who supposedly is under the weather, but who is instead afraid and who does not think that her FBI husband should keep company with the mobster. Depp, taking offense that his friend's wife does not see fit to dine with him, goes to the bedroom and takes his friend's wife temperature, which includes sexually and suggestively running his fingers over the wife's neck and upper torso... feigning that he cares about her health - but is instead using the time, not only to cop a feel, but to deliver a chilling warning to the wife not to ever say anything she might have overheard.
Black Mass has seminal scenes that mimic other noted mob movies too: take the scene where Whitey is having dinner at one of his corrupt FBI agent's home. Whitey is so taken with the meal or so we are led to believe, that he asked his host nonchalantly what is in the recipe? The venal FBI host responded that it is a secret family recipe. Whitey insists that he wants to know the secret recipe and kept prodding, which caused the FBI to relent and give up the secret ingredients; this sent Whitey in a rage because, as Whitey saw it, if the FBI was so easily prodded to give up the his family recipe, then what about the dealings he has had with the corrupt FBI agent? Just like how the scene in the movie, Good Fellas where Ray Liotta is scared out of his whits when Joe Pesci asked the iconic question, funny how... had us laughing and trembling in fear, so it is with this scene in Black Mass. When Whitey eventually told the FBI agent that he was simply 'pulling his proverbial leg,' the agent did not smile during the rest of the dinner because he knew then for sure how dangerous and tenuous the relationship was with Whitey.
I will go out on a limb and say that Mr. Depp will again be rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Black Mass and maybe this time he will win, on account on how many times in the past he has been a nominee. Normally, these Oscar-worthy movies come out between December and January... close to the Oscar nominating season, but curiously Black Mass is out in September... I will venture to say that Black Mass will be re-released during Oscar season, so as to jog those on the Oscar committee's respective memories. Acting props also to Benedict Cumberbatch who played the politician brother of Whitey - incidentally how could these two brothers share the same womb and raised in the same household be so different in character - and to Joel Edgerton who plays the FBI agent and Whitey's loyal childhood friend. On a personal note, I have always wondered how characters like Whitey Bugler can be so gratuitously wicked, yet go to their respective homes and seemingly have normal loving relationships with their children, siblings, and parents... gainsaying the true clinical definition of being Sociopaths?