Black Mass (2015)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, David Harbour, Julianne Nicholson
Directed By: Scott Cooper
Written By: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
Rating: R (US) Running Time: 2 hr 2 min
Fierce ‘Southie’ loyalties and an unholy alliance between the FBI and the Winter Hill Gang, is the story explored in Scott Cooper’s mostly effective gangster flick, Black Mass. Starring Johnny Depp as the infamous James Joseph ‘Whitey’ Bulger.
Leading up to the release of this film, you’d be forgiven if you assumed this was going to be an in-depth study of a man who made it onto the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list. With a reward on the gangster’s head equaling the ransom offered for Osama Bin Laden. But Black Mass isn’t that film, and focuses more on the places and names, the deal with the FBI, and spends a great deal of time with Whitey’s supporting players. With his close childhood friend and FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), getting almost as much screen time as Whitey.
Which is all well and good, but it does force this movie to play out to a very familiar beat. And you’ll likely start recalling other quality gangster flicks as you process this one. Perhaps even ranking Black Mass along with your other favorite mob movies directed by a Mr. Martin Scorsese.
Which is a shame. By opting for a tell-by-numbers approach to this period in Boston history, Scott Cooper and company, while producing a nicely crafted film, have wasted an opportunity to step away from the familiar genre movie, and solely focus on the life and times of the Bulger family. A story that has a sitting senator at the same breakfast table as Boston’s most feared crime boss. Two powerful Bostonians on either side of the law. The opportunities to explore the differences and sad similarities between their worlds would have been fascinating. Especially given the star power and performances possible from Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp. But as I said, Black Mass isn’t that film.
As a by the numbers gangster genre film, Black Mass is decent, but nothing special. Violent and occasionally powerful, but lacking flare. It’s decently produced and performed, and it was nice to see Depp take a break from the lighter more fantastical roles he’s famous for. The movie is also nicely paced and it isn’t boring. I just wish Scott Cooper, and writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, had made better use of this true life story, and the character dynamics therein.
If you enjoy stories about gangsters, I think you’ll be entertained by Black Mass. Just don’t expect another Goodfellas. The movie is rated R for scenes of brutal violence, brief drug use and bad language.
This is a nicely shot film, and looks great on the big screen. At home a HD rental to watch on your nice big TV is recommended over a portable screen.
Johnny Depp is great in this, and the scene where he confronts and threatens John Connolly’s wife, Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), is very creepy.