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Tag Archive: Donnie Brasco


Review by C.J. Bunce

Once again Tom Cruise proves he can’t make a bad action movie.  This Friday his latest, American Made, opens in theaters nationwide.  It is absolutely a Tom Cruise movie for anyone that loves Tom Cruise movies, and everyone else will find a 1980s flashback blast waiting for them.  Cruise has had starring or recognizable roles in 42 movies.  As with star actors like John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger, many expect to see Cruise play Cruise in every new film, but that’s not quite what happens.  Like many actors you can bundle their performances into categories, although it’s easy to find some overlap.  There are Cruise’s cocky maverick hotshots in Jack Reacher, Collateral, Mission: Impossible, Days of Thunder, Rain Man, Cocktail, The Color of Money, and The Outsiders.  That’s a bit different Cruise than the renegades of Top Gun, Oblivion, Valkyrie, Minority Report, Born on the Fourth of July, and The Last Samurai But that’s not the Cruise you’ll find in American Made.  This is Cruise as flawed, cavalier everyman–and a bit of a dope–the kind of roles you could see Gary Cooper or Kevin Costner cast in.  Early buzz suggests this new role is Cruise as cocky maverick hotshot, but that’s only on the surface because he’s playing a pilot.  In American Made you’ll find the more casual but layered Cruise of War of the Worlds, Far and Away, Edge of Tomorrow, A Few Good Men, The Firm, and Jerry Maguire.  This is also the more likeable, more relatable Cruise persona.

Cruise’s character Barry Seal was a real person who fell into some crazy, impossibly outlandish situations as a pilot in the 1970s and 1980s.  This isn’t a true biography–the real events in Seal’s life are far different than as portrayed in the first half of the film, but the second half tracks much closer.  The Barry Seal of the film begins as a well-trained pilot that gets bored with the mundane.  He starts small, smuggling cigars from Cuba into the states while a TWA pilot.  Then a CIA agent named Schafer catches him and offers him a deal: Seal’s evasive techniques are perfect to take spy photos in Central America.  For Seal it beats boredom, and it’s a breeze for him, despite the frequent heavy gunfire.  Seal gets in deep but never really seems to understand how deep, because underneath what would appear to be your typical hotshot pilot is that bit of a dope.  He is so clueless he can’t fathom that his wife, played by Sarah Wright Olsen (Parks and Recreation, Enchanted, 7th Heaven), won’t respond affirmatively that she trusts him when he gives her a smile and asks “do you trust me?”  Twice.  He’s actually taken aback, despite the impossible situation he drags his wife into (like Jerry Maguire trying to convince his new girlfriend that all isn’t as bad as it seems).  And his new pal list includes Manuel Noriega.

CIA agent Schafer (an amalgam of agents the real-life Seal had worked with) is played by Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).  Gleeson is a ringer for Timothy Busfield in Field of Dreams or Sneakers and has great chemistry with Cruise–and he’s surprisingly strong directing the much older Cruise’s actions in scene after scene despite his youth.  Together Schafer and Seal build-up some CIA successes, but Seal has a growing family and needs some extra money on the side–and Schafer isn’t providing more money–so the CIA success is coupled with Seal’s casual assistance in the rise of the Medellin Cartel as he begins smuggling cocaine.  The DEA learns about it and Seal bounces back and forth, playing for both sides, ultimately smuggling weapons for the White House and Ollie North in what became the Iran-Contra scandal.  And then the FBI gets involved.  And all the while Seal literally can’t figure out what to do with all his proceeds from his smuggling, burying some piles of cash in the yard, his wife stuffing shoe boxes full of money in closets, after buying up much of the small town they arrive at in Arkansas.

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Black Mass poster

Just last week we discussed here at borg.com the 2015 return of mob stories to the big and small screen, previewing the British movie Legend starring Tom Hardy and the new TNT series Public Morals with an all-star cast of supporting roles.  Now Johnny Depp is returning to the mob/gangster genre after his superb showing in 1997’s Donnie Brasco opposite Al Pacino and Bruno Kirby, and his 2009 role as John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. 

This time Depp will again play a real-life mob boss, James “Whitey” Bulger, the Boston crime lord who became an FBI informant to take down a mob family trying to invade his territory.  Black Mass also features notable actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness) as Whitey’s state senator brother Bill Bulger, Joel Edgerton (the Star Wars prequels), Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13, R.I.P.D., X-Men: First Class, A Few Good Men), Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern, Orphan, The Skeleton Key), Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street, Fifty Shades of Grey), and Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, Law and Order: LA).

Check out the trailer for Black Mass:

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Public Morals gangsters

Timothy Hutton.  Brian Dennehy.  Christopher Eccleston.  Paul Bettany.  Neal McDonough.  Tom Hardy.  David Thewlis.  Tara Fitzgerald.  Robert Knepper.  Chazz Palminteri. 

That’s a pretty impressive roster of actors taking to mobster stories this year, in only two productions.  One a television series, the other a big screen release.  What draws us to gangster stories anyway?  Even before the film classics The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Hollywood was pumping out–and audiences were devouring–movies about gangsters back to black and white pictures starring screen legends like James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.  More recent, modern classics like Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco have defined what we all look for in a mob story.  Coming 2015 releases continue to look at this popular sub-genre.

Tim Hutton Public Morals

First up is Public Morals, an in-your-face, no-holds-barred series showing all the ugliness of a 1960s New York City, and a police division with corrupt a corrupt force led by show creator and star Edward Burns.  Public Morals is TNT’s latest effort to produce a show to compete with the sex and violence you’d find on HBO or Showtime.

You’ll find top-notch genre actors Hutton, Dennehy, McDonough, and Knepper on this series.

Tom Hardy Legend poster

Next up is a British movie, Legend, which tells the true story of twin brother mobsters Reggie and Ronald Kray, played by The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max: Fury Road’s Tom Hardy.

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