Apr 26, 2015

Trailing Off: "Black Mass" (2015)

Johnny Depp
Welcome to the weekly column Trailing Off in which I take a look at a trailer from the past week and analyze its potential. This will be done using an obnoxious amount of analyzing and personal thoughts on the cast and crew as well as expectations. Coming every Sunday (it's called Trailing Off for a reason), I will attempt to highlight films ranging from new blockbusters to lesser known indies and give them their due. Partially to spread awareness, I do believe that there is an art to the sell and will do my best to highlight why these trailers matter or don't with approval (trove) or disapproval (trash). So please stop by, recommend some trailers, and I will see you next time.

Trailer in Discussion

Directed By: Scott Cooper
Written By: Jez Butterworth (screenplay), Dick Lehr (book), Mark Mallouk (screenplay), Gerard O'Neill (book)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch

- Preamble -

I think that the current generation doesn't understand why we loved Johnny Depp so much as five years ago. Yes, there will be Pirates of the Caribbean, but will audiences recount why he was this charismatic weirdo who put on faces and become a moniker for Tim Burton's brand of Gothic set designs? I feel that if there's any indicator in The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai or Transcendent, it will be harder to not associate him as a washed up actor who has run his course, produced some interestingly odd performances within a studio system, and became an icon for it. That is a legacy worthy of having though it is one that fans likely will be wishing would come around more often. I would put myself on this list despite not being all that big of a fan of most of his recent decade of work.
Which brings us to Black Mass. What exactly is Black Mass going to be to redeem him in our eyes? Well, it is the story of Whitey Bulger who was a famous mob boss in Boston and inspired Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed. For all purposes, this is an actual human being, which is something that Depp hasn't played too often recently. There have been multiple movies as Hunter S. Thompson, but otherwise he has been reserved to playing familiar comic characters. While it may be hard for Depp not to ham it up, I am personally curious to see if he has what it takes to make something compelling and unique with a character, who as depicted in the documentary Whitey, is ruthless and mean; quite the contrary to Depp's style.
Maybe this is what his character needs at this point. Maybe his reputation within the studio system has left him a little burned out on oddity and needs to go back to playing real humans. If anything, it will hopefully give younger audiences a better understanding as to why we loved Depp as opposed to loathe him so much that his most recent film bombed. Is he a movie star still? Not likely. However, he could still be a pretty good actor if given the right material. The only question now is if this real life criminal role will pan out as something worthwhile.

- Dissection -

I will not vouch for accuracy on the performance of Bulger. While I have seen Whitey, I do not feel like I was able to get a good understanding of his mannerisms. For the sake of this dissection, I will point out why it is a really well edited trailer. For starters, a simple moment sets the scene nicely. Depp is at dinner and gets told a family recipe. Simple mistake, right? Well, he unveils why this simple flub may get others in trouble and why he cannot trust them. Sealed with a laugh, it is disarming and allows for a sense of tension in the air. It is sort of comic and disturbing as images from the film play out. Do we know what's happening? No. There's chaos, but that doesn't mean we know what is causing it, save for Bulger's antics.
However, this is a prime moment to allow us to get a sense of who Bulger will be as depicted in the film. He has a tough outer shell and is capable of delivering a solid monologue with flawless logic that unveils why he is a paranoid and hard hitting criminal. It unveils his back story. Most of all, it gives us a sense of purpose to Depp's performance. All he is doing is talking over the montage of clips. We're invested and soon it ends back where we started and it is a wonderfully uncomfortable moment that leaves a little bit of confusion on everyone's faces. 
Basically, this teases everything without giving away anything. If you don't know Bulger from real life, you know only enough to become invested in the movie. You know that Depp is in it and he's menacing. We don't know anyone else, but we get a sense of the barricades between law enforcement and criminals. This teases a lot, leaving clues as to what it all means while dissecting why a family recipe should be kept a secret. I am not sure if I am being tricked into the performance, but it is mesmerizing and nuanced enough for me to feel like there's more going on. It sells me in simplicity rather than providing the entire scenario. Bravo, trailer editor! You did your job.

- One Sentence Sell -

It's Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, and he is as nuanced and disturbing as you can imagine in a new crime drama.

- Trash or Trove -

For a film that wasn't on my radar until a few days ago, this works wonders on quickly getting me up to speed with what's going on and why I should care about it. I feel like judging trailers is tricky, because they sometimes give too much away. However, this is one that emphasizes performance over plot, and it works almost too well. Now to see if it can withstand the actual film.

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