Movie Review: “Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy, USA 2015)

In the early days of the synchronized sound motion picture, Hollywood had to seek out people to write dialogue. It was no longer a matter of the occasional title card, so the writing had to be stronger than it had been before. Lacking a substantial pool of established writers in the forms that the new motion picture would require, the industry turned to established writers in other media. As a result, Hollywood was flooded with east coast newspapermen like James Agee and Herman Mankiewicz.

So it should come as no surprise that newspapers became a big part of Hollywood. The mystery-thrillers that would eventually become detective stories were more often originally stories of heroic journalists fighting for the public’s right to know. The embrionic paranoid thrillers that became bleak pictures of the corrupt corporate-political structure of modern America in the ’70s were often tales of idealistic young journalists fightinga against editors who had been corrupted by the political and commercial leaders of the time. Even after screenwriters were well-established, similar types of journalism thrillers remained commonplace enough that we saw it peak in  All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, USA 1976). Continue reading

Movie Review: “Sicario” (Denis Villeneuve, USA 2015)

The film opens with an explanation of the word “Sicario” that ends with saying that in Mexico, it means “hitman.” That opening makes the film predictable and telegraphed. But I really don’t think that Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan care. They made it really obvious what they wanted to say, to the point that televisions are basically blaring it into your eyeballs in some scenes. But subtlety isn’t a necessary quality for a film, and Villeneuve seems to have wanted more than anything to make sure that everyone knows what he had to say.

And what he had to say is actually rather complex: the modern world has destroyed all morality. Continue reading

Movie Review: “Black Mass” (Scott Cooper, USA 2015)

In 2011, when James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested, tried, and sentenced, I was in law school. As a result, I didn’t pay very close attention to the story. I remember Tony Kornheiser talking about it a few times but mostly just saying, “Wow–this is incredible! And now he’s so old! He looks like me!” and the like. But all I remember is that he had been on the run for a long time after having been a mobster and government informant. It’s possible that I heard more, but I find it strange to believe that I forgot what a bizarre story his was. He spent two decades growing his criminal empire in Boston while the FBI blocked all investigation of his activities because he was supposedly an informant of theirs, even though he apparently was essentially providing no information. His handler was falsifying information to make Bulger appear more important than he was in order to advance his own career while allowing Bulger to take over the city.

According to the film, the handler, John Connolly, doesn’t appear to have been on Bulger’s payroll or to have been placed in the FBI in order to execute this plan. So, the fundamental question that occurs to me is, “Why the hell did he protect Bulger like this?” This film, while it is supposedly about Bulger’s career, essentially attempts to answer that question. The answer that it gives is that Connolly, Bulger, and all of the other main players in this enterprise were children playing at a game of advancement and “success.” They never grew into men, remaining at heart kids on a playground even as they beat and murdered rivals and broke every law on the books. Continue reading