The more I get to share my views about movies and television the more I am forced to think about how exactly I develop them. Are these completely my own opinions or do I praise a movie because critics have told me it is good? Do I really love “2001: A Space Odyssey” for its practical effects and establishment of sci-fi icons, or do I suffer through its crawling pace and vague symbolism just to say I love a classic?
There is an essay by Mark Twain called “Corn Pone Opinions” where he discusses the scarcity of original views. Twain argues that we rarely decide that we like a fashion trend or elect a candidate based solely on our own reasoning. In his view, most people just conform to the majority. He states, “The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts.”
I started thinking back on this essay after seeing “Black Mass” this weekend. It didn't quite live up to the hype, but I still enjoyed it. My friends and I talked about it on the ride home and I read reviews to hear other perspectives. When people thinking of seeing it would ask for my opinion, �I kept spitting out issues and interpretations that other people had shared. I agreed with them I suppose, but they weren't wholly my own.
Without any outside influence I can tell you that every actor's performance in “Black Mass” is incredible. From Johnny Depp's brooding, ominous charm as Whitey Bulger, down to Benedict Cumberbatch's south Boston accent. What I kept telling people however was the plot “was a little underwhelming”. There's no meteoric rise and fall like in “Scarface." Everything builds and inevitably falls apart, but there's no grand shootout or final comeuppance to bring it to a satisfying ending.
“Black Mass” is based on the true story of Whitey Bulger and his south Boston Winter Hill Gang. At times it is almost documentary style, intercut by police interviews with characters in the future testifying against Bulger. The true story doesn't involve large-scale sting operations with SWAT teams and shootouts, so the lack of action doesn't bother me. In fact I like the way all the power just quietly slips away from criminals and the corrupt in the end.
As I found myself forming my own opinions about “Black Mass,” I thought about how often other people tell us what we should watch and how we may be influenced. We are constantly bombarded with marketing, award ceremonies, friends and blogs telling us what to see and why. They all have their own bias or agenda, and I think it is important to take the time and reason out what we personally look for in entertainment. It doesn't matter if it's romantic comedies, historical dramas, art house films or mindless action flicks. As long as your taste is genuinely your own and you think about what you're watching, you're doing something right.