Black Mass

by | Oct 16, 2015 | 0 comments

A Film That Despite a Slow First Half Reminds Us of the Old Gangster Greats

Some of the best films to have been made are gangster movies. Goodfellas, Casino, The Godfather, The Departed, and Once Upon a Time in America are all great examples. However, over the years the genre has died out, whether it is because of the complex storytelling it requires or simply the audience’s taste changing, there is no specific answer. I was ready to mourn the loss of the genre when an incredibly solid Black Mass came my way, and it exemplifies that the genre hasn’t exactly died out, but its hits have just become rare.

Black Mass is the story of the infamous Boston gangster Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp). The story takes place between 1975 and 1985 in which Bulger had his prime years of lawlessness. In those years he also was an “informant” for the FBI. The FBI officer John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) grew up in the same neighborhood (South Boston) as Bulger, and he was able to convince Bulger to form an “alliance” in which Bulger would supply information about other gangs to the FBI and in turn Bulger would be granted immunity. The film however escalates as Bulger abuses his immunity and breaks through every possible humane limit. This in turn is a conflict for officer Connolly since he promised to protect Bulger, but is also sworn to protect the people of Boston.

The film is incredibly solid; with an extremely smart script that pays homage to the great gangster films. However, while the film is very well crafted, the first half seems completely lost. In the first half of the film we are shown how ruthless Bulger is, but the storyline itself doesn’t seem to have a particular goal, and that leaves the audience simply absorbing little snippets of Bulger’s life, which, while informative, is not entertaining. Only in the second half, as the moral dilemmas of the characters escalate, does the film find strong footing.

The film is well directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace). In fact Cooper might have saved the first part of the film from being outright boring by giving it a great pace and a constant intensity. He also has an incredibly large cast, full of celebrities, which can be impossible to manage, but in the end he was able to distribute screen time very well so that no actor is left feeling thirsty.

The acting is amazing. It would be an understatement saying that Johnny Depp kills it (pun intended). During the entire film the audience doesn’t see an actor in Bulger’s role, they see “Whitey” Bulger. You’re only slapped back to reality when you see Depp’s name paired to Bulger’s in the credits. He absolutely morphs his voice and gestures, and looks so menacing that the audience almost doesn’t dare breathe when he is on screen. It may be one Depp’s best roles in years, if not the best. As for the supporting cast you have big names like Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Bulger’s brother immersed in politics. Cumberbatch does a fine job at reining in and preventing himself from stealing the spotlight. You also have Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) who can now be taken seriously after a short but good portrayal as Bulger’s wife. She copes well with a small character that shows various extreme emotions in a relatively short lifespan. Then you also have small additions from the likes of Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sargaard, Juno Temple, Julianne Nicholson and Corey Stoll. But the most important grain of the supporting cast is Joel Edgerton. Edgerton is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today, he gets a great deal of supporting roles (Warrior, The Great Gatsby, Exodus: Gods and Kings), but despite that he always dominates all of his characters so that the audience is always left wanting more. He’s even tried his hand at directing and has received much critical appraise with his directorial debut The Gift, which came out this summer. In Black Mass he plays a cop who starts out pristine and correct and ends up dirty and spiteful. He handles the transition extremely well, so that it not only is unnoticeable from scene to scene, but in the long run it makes rational sense for his character.

In the end the film is a good one. The cast and directing is great, and the only drawback is the first half of the film, which seems lost and thus makes the film seem longer than it should be. However, just too see Johnny Depp and the great supporting cast is a reason enough.

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 70% 70%

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Make-Up

What is your favorite gangster movie? Let me know in the comments section.

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