Warner Brothers Pictures
Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, sexual references and brief drug use
Depp Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance As Notorious Mobster Whitey Bulger
In the mid-1970s, James “Whitey” Bulger began rising through the ranks of South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang by knocking off all the competition vying for control of his tight-knit, Irish neighborhood. The power-hungry mobster subsequently sought to muscle-in on assorted illegal rackets being run by the Mafia in the city’s predominantly-Italian North End.
While in the midst of the ensuing turf war, Whitey was surreptitiously approached by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a childhood friend from Southie working for the FBI. Agent Connolly informed his pal that the Bureau had enough evidence to put him behind bars and throw away the key, though it was willing to look the other way in return for his cooperation as an undercover informant.
Bulger grudgingly agreed after establishing that he wouldn’t have to snitch on any of his associates, only on his cross-town rivals in the Angiulo crime family. However, Connolly further stipulated that no murders could be committed by any Winter Hill members once the unholy alliance was struck.
Of course, that was a little much to expect, given how there’s no honor among thieves, especially when it comes to a ruthless assassin like Whitey. He merely saw the protection being afforded by the Feds as an opportunity to behave with impunity as he further expanded his spheres of influence.
The Machiavellian mastermind proceeded to embark on a bloody reign of terror during which Connolly and a fellow G-Man (David Harbour) found themselves being manipulated to venture to the wrong side of the law. When the truth finally came to light, the two agents were arrested as accomplices to Whitey who disappeared into thin air, landed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and yet still avoided apprehension for well over a decade.
Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), Black Mass is a riveting biopic chronicling the infamous exploits of as chilling a character as you’re apt to encounter in the theater this year. Johnny Depp is at the top of his game, here, as Bulger, a very intimidating, larger-than-life monster without a functioning conscience. Cooper has the potential of doing for the three-time, Academy Award-nominee what he already accomplished for Jeff Bridges with Crazy Heart, namely, land the veteran thespian the coveted Oscar which has managed to elude him despite a brilliant career marked by a string of nonpareil performances.
Besides Depp, kudos are in order for much of the stellar supporting cast, especially Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson and Benedict Cumberbatch. Though the September back-to-school season is generally a harbinger of a weak slate at the cinema, the exceptional Black Mass proved to be a pleasant surprise and the first must-see flick of the fall.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 122 minutes
Constitutional Rights Documentary Examines Why America’s Cops Are Running Amok
William “Dub” Lawrence is the former sheriff of Davis County, Utah, where he created and trained the state’s very first SWAT team several decades ago. However, he came to regret having ever founded that tactical unit in September of 2008 when the police were summoned by his daughter because her husband had suffered an emotional breakdown.
Brian had barricaded himself in his pickup truck where he threatened to commit suicide while holding a gun to his head. Instead of defusing the volatile situation, the SWAT team proceeded to ratchet up the tension, ultimately ending the standoff by emptying 111 rounds into the vehicle, a lethal mix of live ammo, flash-bomb grenades, pepper balls, rubber bullets, tasers and explosive devices.
Dub partially blames himself for his son-in-law’s unnecessary death, because he’d helped enforce the commanding officer’s order that his daughter and Brian’s parents vacate the area, thereby abandoning their loved one in an hour of need. Leaving it up to the first responders proved disastrous, since they failed to follow proper protocol, going so far as to shoot Brian in the head after he was already disarmed and lying defenseless in the street.
This and other similar cases of overzealous policing on the part of SWAT teams is the subject of Peace Officer, a timely documentary co-directed by Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber. For, never before in American history have cops been so distrusted and/or disliked by such a large percentage of the citizenry.
Most notably, there’s the Black Lives Matter movement which refuses to apologize for employing such hateful chants during demonstrations as: “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em up like bacon!” and, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want ’em? Now!” Consequently, attacks on law enforcement officers have become so commonplace that they’re now being murdered at the rate of about one a week.
How do you explain such a frightening breakdown of the culture? Well, this thought-provoking exposé blames the country’s increasingly militaristic approach to policing. Dub, who serves as the film’s narrator, laments the fact that “Most people no longer see police as protectors, but as violators of their liberty.” He also harks back to a time when a patrolman’s job description call for his primarily serving the community as a peacemaker.
Sadly, that lofty ideal is long gone, having been replaced by the self-serving, “us” vs. “them” notion as reflected by the blue wall of silence and the immunity from prosecution which “allows cops to break the law with impunity.” A recipe for civil insurrection which we’ve all been witnessing.
Thus, Peace Officer proves to be the cinematic equivalent of a canary in the coal mine, as it issues a dire warning to the government to get SWAT teams under control before either the people revolt or the U.S. turns into a Fascistic police state.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio: Submarine Deluxe
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening September 18, 2015
Captive (PG-13 for mature themes involving violence and substance abuse) Crime thriller recounting the real-life ordeal of a drug-addicted single mom (Kate Mara) taken hostage in her home by a fugitive from justice (David Oyelowo) who had just murdered the judge presiding over his rape trial. Supporting cast includes Michael Kenneth Williams, Mimi Rogers, Melissa Eastwood and Jessica Oyelowo.
Everest (PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images) Fact-based docudrama recreating the 1996 assault of Mount Everest which claimed the lives of eight climbers caught in a blizzard. Ensemble cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, Robin Wright and John Hawkes.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (PG-13 for profanity, protracted violence and action sequences, substance abuse and mature themes) Second installment of the sci-fi saga finds Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers facing a new set of challenges in a desolate landscape dotted with a number of unimaginable obstacles. With Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Pepper and Nathalie Emmanuel.
About Ray (Unrated) Genderbending dramedy revolving around a troubled teen (Elle Fanning) trapped in a boy’s body seeking the support of her family while transitioning into a female. With Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon and Tate Donovan. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)
Being Canadian (Unrated) North Country documentary taking a lighthearted look at what it means to be Canadian. Featuring appearances by such famous Canucks as Seth Rogen, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, William Shatner, Eugene Levy and Dan Aykroyd.
Cooties (R for profanity, sexuality, graphic violence, gratuitous gore and drug use) Horror comedy about a food-borne virus spread by an elementary school cafeteria that transforms the student body into a swarm of man-eating zombies. Co-starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson and Alison Pill.
Eden (R for violence, profanity and sexuality) Suspense thriller about a U.S. soccer team’s struggle to survive after its plane crashes off the coast of a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. With Nate Parker, James Remar, Sung Kang, Jessica Lowndes and Diego Boneta.
The Man Who Saved The World (Unrated) Doomsday Clock documentary about Stanislav Petrov, the Russian Lt. Colonel who, in 1983, averted the outbreak of World War III by refusing to follow orders to nuke the United States back into the Stone Age. Featuring commentary by Matt Damon, Robert De Niro and Ashton Kutcher. (In English and Russian with subtitles)
The New Girlfriend (R for graphic sexuality and frontal nudity) Out-of-the-closet drama about a woman (Anais Demoustier) who discovers that her late BFFs’ (Isild Le Besco) husband (Romain Duris) likes to dress in women’s clothing. With Aurore Clement, Raphael Personnaz and Bruno Perard. (In French with subtitles)
Pawn Sacrifice (PG-13 for sexuality, smoking and brief profanity) Cold War saga revisiting the historic, USA vs. Russia chess match, staged in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972, between challenger Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and defending champ Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). With Peter Sarsgaard, Lily Rabe and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Prophet’s Prey (Unrated) Abuse of trust documentary, narrated by Nick Cave, chronicling the rise and fall of Warren Jeffs, the charismatic, Mormon cult leader convicted of practicing polygamy and pedophilia.
Sicario (R for profanity, graphic violence and grisly images) Crime thriller revolving around an idealistic FBI Agent (Emily Blunt) enlisted by a federal task force to fight the war on drugs along the Mexican border. With Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Jon Bernthal. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)
Some Kind Of Hate (Unrated) Revenge-fueled horror flick about a bullied teen (Ronen Rubinstein) who evens the score by embarking on a bloody reign of terror after summoning the spirit of a teen (Sierra McCormick) teased to the point of suicide. Support cast includes Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps and Spencer Breslin.