Film Review: Black Mass

BLACK MASS

Director and co-writer Scott Cooper continues his winning streak with Black Mass. The film is well crafted, well written and very entertaining.

Gangster Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger is one of South Boston’s most notorious criminals. The brother of a state senator, Jimmy becomes an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family taking over his turf…

After the success of Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, Scott Cooper continues to direct superlative features with Black Mass. Based on a true story, Black Mass charts the rise and fall of the famous gangster of South Boston. The film exhibits familiar gangster tropes, but these are executed in a competent and engaging fashion.

Scott Cooper’s direction is strong. The narrative is told is chronological order, with flash forwards inserted to give viewers an idea of where the story is headed. Given how well known the protagonist is, this is not a giveaway to see the outcome well in advance.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of Black Mass is other characters’ relationship with Jimmy. A range of characters are featured, with varying relationships with the protagonist. Each of these connections help to sketch a picture of Jimmy, ensuring he is a three-dimensional protagonist. Towards the outcome of the film, the different choices his compatriots make are illuminating. There is a poignancy point at the end of the film with regards to John Connolly and the decision he makes about Jimmy.

Violence is a prominent feature of Black Mass. The willingness of Jimmy to carry out these brutal acts successful exemplify the type of character he is. Cooper does not shy away from depicting some brutal violence, yet it never feels gratuitous given the tone of the film. The soundtrack and costumes works well to signpost the changing eras. Art direction is good, with cool colours contrasting strongly with neon lighting in certain scenes.

Johnny Depp gives one of his strongest performances in recent years as Jimmy Bulger. Joel Edgerton is very believable as Connolly, whilst Benedict Cumberbatch and Rory Cochrane are decent in supporting roles.

Black Mass is great addition to the gangster movie genre, and enjoyable film overall.

Black Mass is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2015.

Film Review: Out of the Furnace

 Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a brooding drama that builds to a thrilling finale. Scott Cooper’s film offers superb direction and performances.

Russell and his younger brother Rodney Baze live in the Rust Belt. With decent work scarce, Rodney looks at other ways to garner income. When this leads him deep in the wrong crowd, Russell takes matters into his own hands…

Out of the Furnace presents a simple tale, but one that is effective thanks to solid direction, a decent screenplay and some excellent performances. After the success of Crazy Heart, expectations were rather high for writer-director Scott Cooper. With Out of the Furnace he does not disappoint.

There is a brooding atmosphere that pervades the entire film. This is generated by the score, and the careful building of characters and relationships. Out of the Furnace builds slowly, but retains the attention. The final act functions as something of a pay off, with the tension that has gently been accelerating reaching a riveting climax.

Several themes come into play with Out of the Furnace. Most obvious of these is that of justice and revenge. In some ways, this gives the film a timeless feel. Nevertheless, the political backdrop, which is positioned early in the film, gives Out of the Furnace a more modern feel. Without explicitly expressing so, Cooper’s film exhibits the lack of a real sense of opportunity in contemporary industrial towns. This is dominantly conveyed through Rodney, and the choices he makes.

Christian Bale offers a powerful performance as Russell. As ever, Bale is entirely convincing in this role. Casey Affleck is also superb, whilst Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson and Willem Dafoe provide good support.

Out of the Furnace shapes its classical themes into a modern tale framed in an understated manner by the real issues facing some American communities today. Scott Cooper decisively illustrates that Crazy Heart was no fluke.