Tag Archives: Mystic River

Black Mass (2015)

Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.

But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.

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The Yards (2000)

On the surface, The Yards isn’t a whole lot different than James Gray’s debut feature Little Odessa. Both follow a young man with a rough past returning to his hometown after a long time away. Both explore the family dynamic in the wake of that return. Both watch as man and family alike are sucked back into old ways as if the place in which they all grew up would hold a dark fate regardless of how loudly they all raged against it. Both Little Odessa and The Yards, tragic movies about reluctant criminals, are criminally underseen as well (although they’re both now streaming on Netflix).

In Gray’s sophomore effort Mark Wahlberg is Leo, recent ex-con out on parole and returned to his ailing mother and his seedy extended family in Brooklyn. His good friend Willie is happiest to see him again, eager to reintroduce him to “the way things work”. Charlize Theron, James Caan and Faye Dunaway round out the impressive cast, but Joaquin Phoenix as Willie is the only one who mines his character for all he’s worth. If there’s anything that separates this feature from Little Odessa, it’s that the potential of The Yards is greater than the final result.

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The Drop (2014)

The Drop is a film borne along by performances rather than by story or visual gusto or sharp dialogue or anything else. The late James Gandolfini gives a very James Gandolfini-like turn as mobster-minded Cousin Marv, which is to say that he’s still an immensely enjoyable actor even in a typecast role. Tom Hardy stars as Bob Saginowski, bartender at Marv’s place and occasional collaborator in things less legal. Marv’s place is a drop bar, where mafiosos and mafioso wannabes from across Brooklyn launder their dirty money on any given night. The Drop starts with a robbery of the bar, which leads to complications for Bob’s otherwise straightforward life.

Watching The Drop certainly isn’t akin to watching paint dry, but for the first couple acts it’s pretty close to watching Tom Hardy watch paint dry. Bob finds a battered puppy whimpering from a trashcan outside a house near the bar and – oh, gee – damn near immediately starts a relationship with the girl who lives there (played by Noomi Rapace). A few double crosses later and the dog turns out to be one of the links in the robbery case, because of course it is. This predictability continues through to the very end when Bob is revealed to be a lot less timid than he appears, because of course he is.

Hardy, as usual, is commanding. So Bob’s character is predictable, yes, predictably one of those potential secret-holding phantom menaces from movies like A History of Violence, but it works in The Drop‘s favor that Hardy plays that type of character so well. He’s more fascinating as the simmering powderkeg than as the explosion, more spellbinding as the lion in the cage, which is exactly what Bob appears to be and indeed does end up being at the end. Granted, Hardy is phenomenal when playing characters that are fully unleashed (as in Bronson) and fully restrained (as in Locke), but Bob Saginowski isn’t written anywhere near as well as Hardy’s most memorable characters. It’s Hardy holding the screen, not Bob.

Gandolfini, likewise, is playing a snapshot of Tony Soprano but playing it well. Dennis Lehane has written some great crime novels that have been translated to successful films like Mystic River, and The Drop certainly has his streetwise vibe about it. He fails to do anything besides check the major boxes, though, and it’s the actors who have to make up for the inevitable sluggishness one experiences when retrodding familiar material.

The Drop is worth watching if you’re sick of your Netflix queue, if you’re bored on a transnational flight, or if you just enjoy Hardy and/or Gandolfini. There’s little doubt that you will enjoy them here, but past that The Drop is hard pressed to offer anything else.