Archive for the ‘Kevin Bacon’ Category

Black Mass

28 Sep

Black Mass – directed by Scott Cooper. Crime Drama. 122 minutes Color 2015.


The Story: A Boston racketeer becomes an FBI informant and The Godfather of Boston.


Johnny Depp is the inheritor of Brando’s mantle. I don’t mean the mantle that had “The Greatest Actor In The World” written on it that everybody in the world could see but him.

That mantle ruined Brando. No, I mean the mantle of all the parts Brando never played, through laziness, perversity, and ruin.

Depp made two movies with Brando, one of which Depp directed, The Brave in which Brando gave one of his most brilliantly conceived and terrifying characterizations. Brando kept contact with Depp; the long midnight calls for which Brando was known, yes, but also the fact that who else was there? Sean Penn, whom Brando also called? Penn didn’t have the range, and he was also lazy.

Brando’s mantle is not the parts that Brando never played: Coriolanus, Lear, Macbeth. No, Brando was a heavy actor; Depp is not. Depp must choose lighter fare to dine on. Depp is a miniaturist. Depp could play Iago, but never Othello. Both could do Restoration comedy, but Depp only has done it. His brilliant performance in Mordecai is a version of it. He keeps setting before us small masterpieces of technique. And Black Mass is one of them.

He wears a big makeup from the start, and it does not relent as the character ages and becomes more ruthless before our eyes. He plays a gang lord who achieves immunity from his crimes because he has enlisted himself as an informant to the FBI on the doings of gangs rival to him.

However, this betrays a code common to his community, his cohorts, and his Catholicism. You do not peach! Those you were raised with, in the Boston hood and boyhood, you remain loyal to through thick and thin, mainly thick. No murder, crime, betrayal, divorce, may clash with the code of this loyalty. You stand by this code as you would your family, your own dearest child. You sacrifice all higher ideals for this code. It is more to you than religion.

Now when the story of Black Mass appeared, I read it with fascination because it recorded the daring of this gang lord, James “Whitey” Bulger, his long career, his eluding arrest, and his eventual escape. Set against this story is the story of Bulger’s younger brother, William Bulger, who was a state senator and as honest as James was dishonest – but would not betray him, nor more would he benefit from Whitey’s crimes. The story is starling and daft. As journalism it is superb.

But as drama it looses force because the power that brings Bulger down is not the arrival of a new FBI chief in Boston as we are told, but the arising and resumption of a set of standards and codes older than loyalty codes. Those codes are the codes of human decency. They are more primordial than any code of loyalty, justice, or retribution. For Whitey is seen in time as the enemy of the survival of family itself. Whitey kills everyone slightly suspicious. And, as he does this, his cohorts stir and see that his loyalty code does not hold true. It is being used for assassination. Any of them might go next.

However, in the journalism on which Black Mass is based this older code of decency is not given play, and in the movie it is only hinted at. The women are the first to express it, but we lose track of them in impotence and focus. Eventually the men of his gang see his madness and arise loyal to that decency, and turn state’s evidence against Bulgur. But this is only done cinematically and slightly. There is no scene for it. There is no confrontation.

So in the end, the film disappoints. It is not high and noble ideals that brought Bulger down, but simple, primitive, human ones. But that’s not what we get. Instead, we get is journalism. What we need is a movie.

Whitey Bulger was never brought down. He slipped away and lived in hiding for years. In a way, his escape was from the very human values that did him in. But we never see this.

What we see is a superb production, beautifully acted by everyone. And Johnny Depp with nothing to play against.

Here he is, though, playing The Godfather, an Irish one. How different he is from Brando. And how right he is to tackle a role of this ferocity. Played, unlike Brando, without humor, without kindliness. But just as sane, just as determined. He is a businessman for our time. It is a chief work in Depp’s portfolio.


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Posted in Benedict Cumberbach, GANGSTER DRAMA, Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon


The Big Picture

03 Aug

The Big Picture ­­­­–– directed by Christopher Guest. Satire. A film student gets discovered by Hollywood and barters away his soul, almost. 100 minutes Color 1988.


I am actually zero degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. For back in the palmy days of the 70s, my lady friend drew me from Greenwich Village to a big Thanksgiving party in the Philadelphia house of Kevin Bacon’s parents, whose father was city planner. Kevin was a kid running around the yard playing touch.

Because of this gratifyingly high position I hold in his life, I have always wanted him to be a favorite actor of mine, but there are too many degrees of separation for that.

There is a human model called Fusion, which divides folks into two outer types, either the controlling or the withdrawn, and each of these combines with an inner type, either the steady or the volatile. Katharine Hepburn would be Volatile/Controlling, and Spencer Tracy would be Steady/Withdrawn. Kevin Bacon would be Volatile/Controlling also, and his best friend in the movie and his girlfriend would both be Steady/Withdrawn.

The problem with Kevin Bacon as an actor is that his Controlling energy is used, probably unconsciously, not to control his surroundings and make them better, but to control himself. The result is a tension ever present and useful only in dramatic roles. In a comedy, which this film is, it is useless and indeed detrimental. In dramatic roles it gives him a certain deadness; this makes him an ideal villain. But it prevents him from being a natural comic actor, someone who is inherently funny. And without this quality the present film falls flat.

And it falls even flatter by contrast when there appear in it actors who are inherently funny, or who can do funny things, or both. Such ones are Fran Dresher, who is marvelous as the Hollywood wife who is forever redecorating her home. Or Martin Short, whose exquisitely and imaginatively rash take has an uncanny viability as a gonzo Hollywood agent,. Or Teri Hatcher as the sex-bomb starlet. Or Jennifer Jason Leigh, my least favorite actor, who, in a very well-written part, is brilliant in making the manically volatile film student into someone one’s heart bleeds for. These four have talents that can rise to meet the challenge satire demands.

As has the great J.T.Walsh as the sinister, controlling studio head. But Bacon is so tense, even his teeth are tense. It throws his timing a half-beat short. It makes everything he does preplanned, so even his improvisations seem like nothing is actually happening to him. Nothing looks fresh. Everything looks thought-out even when nothing is. He is a very good actor, but his presence in this material is the ruination of it. It’s a Tom Hanks part; it needs someone you can get behind, someone inherently a fool. The best Bacon can come up with is routine naiveté. It wants not just an actor you like but one you can admire for making a jackass of himself, someone so vulnerable they are lucky.


Where The Truth Lies

25 Apr

Where the Truth Lies – directed by Atom Egoyan. Who-Done-It. A pretty biographer falls into the hotel beds of famous comedian-partners. 107 minutes Color 2005.
I am going to discipline myself. I am no longer going to idly grab a movie at the library for any other reason but that I believe I will enjoy it – grab it out of curiosity or to fill a gap in my education or after saying, “Oh, here’s a minor Bop Hope comedy I never heard of.”

Not that I dislike Bob Hope; I don’t; but I am not interested in being an omnivore of movies; I reviewed over 600 movies in the past two years; I am stuffed.

Or rather, what I am interested in is the truth of acting. The craft of acting, which I myself have practiced a good many years – although mainly on the stage – is what I wish to offer here, insofar as I can perceive it. For I am not An Acting Mogul. I was only my own sort of actor. There are many other sorts. Almost as many as there are actors. I am humble before the craft, its difficulties, its delights. And I watch films because certain actors are in them. I love actors and acting.

Beyond that, I am interested in the work of certain directors: Raoul Walsh whom I am fond of; Elia Kazan whom I surrendered to when young; George Stevens, in the beauty of whose work I still become lost. There are many others, modern directors whose work brings a slant on and a veracity of life to my life. It is foolish of me to think that I should watch films to keep abreast with the past or the present. I don’t care about that. I watch films as I have always done, to save my life: as scripture. And to have a good laugh, which is sometimes the same thing.

This picture is beautifully executed. It is good to see Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon in roles so far outside their usual realm, and their imagination and vitality count a lot in the carrying power of surprising us here. Bacon is particularly effective in certain scenes, evincing a virility in seduction one has never seen before. He’s a hard actor to watch, however, because what lies behind his face is always so volatile, and because his eyes don’t match. I have always liked to see him, though. But one cares not a rat’s buns about the fate of him or of Firth or of any of the people in this picture.

The two comedians performing fund raising marathons on TV are dead-hearted pros. And the writing of the young college girl who is murdered betrays her character by having her ask for money for having witnessed a compromising scene between Bacon and Firth. It would be better had she been murdered simply for seeing it.

I suppose the film might have engaged one, if it had adhered to the regulation set down for us by Howard Hawks in The Big Sleep and had the female lead investigating the crime been played with the insolence required to shoulder her way into the lives of the comedians, and the wit to figure out who-dun-it at the end. But the actress cast is of a vacuous temperament. I suppose someone thought that her innocence and her naiveté would draw us in. But, you know, innocence is not very interesting. It is interesting in a child, but only because in a child it is inextricably and intimately aligned with a child’s imagination to improvise. Innocence lends infant improvisation its gas. Innocence is catatonically boring without its moment-by-moment inventive power. As Oscar Wilde said, “It is always wrong to be innocent,” and as Borges said of Oscar Wilde, “He is never wrong.”

I picked up the film because of its wonderful title. Somehow I’d heard of it, hadn’t I? The director had such an unusual name. Hadn’t I heard of him? Yes, but none of that is enough to spend time on a dime. I must watch myself. Loving watching movies as much as I do is a vacuous reason to watch anything that comes to hand. Forgive me.

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