Black Mass
Acting
Directing
Cinematography
Script
Timeless
The Good
  • If you miss Boston, this is the movie to watch
  • So much dirty New England accents
  • Johnny Depp can still play decent movies
The Bad
  • Characters were pretty one-dimensional
  • Chris Connolly just totally did not work for me
  • Story was rather uninteresting
3.2Overall Score

In my last days in the beautiful city of Cambridge, I remember riding home on Cambridge Street and seeing a bunch of old caaaas being paaaaaked in front some shabby old bar and I instantly knew, this must be the movie they are shooting about Whitey Bulgar. As time went by, I learned that Johnny Depp was starring and Scott Cooper was directing. And quite frankly, I was not 100% sure if I was happy with these choices. Johnny Depp has had quite a few recent missteps and Scott Cooper has had two pretty decent (haven’t seen Crazy Heart but liked Out of the Furnace) but no groundbreaking movie record. As the trailers kept rolling in, my hopes had gone up a bit – Johnny Depp looks like a completely different person (obviously) and the movie just looks super badass.

And as I am writing this review, I am a little biased because me missing my old neighborhood has probably given me 617-googles and making me like the movie more than it actually is. Let’s go step by step … I would say that if this gangster movie was released in a different time, it would have probably qualified as magnificent, it follows a clear structure in 5-year jumps to portray the rise and fall of one of Boston’s biggest crime kingpins. The story in itself is very interesting:

The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. (IMDB.com)

Courtesy of http://theverge.com

Courtesy of http://theverge.com

The film was basically Boston porn on Johnny Depp stick – there is lots of New England accent, shots of the 617 all around and townhouse after townhouse as well as the good old ugly Government Center. Seeing Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulgar is interesting enough as one could see how much he enjoyed playing the badass paranoid and twisted character – he was truly a highlight of the entire film. And on the flip side, the movie tries really hard to show that even though Bulgar was a psychopath, he had a soft spot for his people (like the old lady he helps or his mom) – but that can be lit on fire with just one wrong word. The remaining cast was super high caliber but I felt Cooper did a poor job in exploiting these other characters to their full abilities; John Connolly’s character (played by the gifted Joel Edgerton) who actually was the focus point of the film was very one-dimensional in my mind – at no time during the movie did Cooper try to dig deeper and show him being somewhat torn about if he is doing the right thing. The only justification why he should jeopardize his career and life – as well as conducting a criminal act as an FBI agent – by helping a known felon was merely justified by “We grew up together and Southie folks stick together”. Meanwhile, Bulgar is completely using Connolly to his advantage and he doesn’t even get. Connolly’s partner John Morris (played David Harbour) who was the torn character had some strong and some weak scenes, but at least the movie portrayed him thinking about what the FBI’s wrongdoing to corroborate with a known felon. The biggest waste of air time was Benedict Cumberbatch – one of the hottest Hollywood commodities right now – and clearly a very interesting character in this whole charade. The younger brother of a Boston mobster running for office – I am pretty sure that there is more to tell about this plot than the few scenes in the movie. His character was basically a complete sideshow and Cumberbatch had almost no opportunity to shine. Not even to mention Kevin Bacon.  So in a nutshell, I felt that acting wise the movie did not live up to its full potential. Same goes for character development, especially given the interesting mix of characters which were available.

From a story perspective, the movie follows a very clear structure with time jumps to fit in the story of Whitey Bulgar’s rise and fall. There is nothing really wrong with that but there is also nothing particularly new or special about it. It displays what we have seen numerous times by now – small time gangster who is the big fish in his small pond (Winter Hill) rises to power with the help of a snitch and rises to even more power and thus becomes more paranoid and psychotic (The Godfather II) – his people start turning on him and the downward slope of his power parable begins. The issue I had with this “linear” plot is that it has to stands the test against the best gangster movies of our recent times (most similarly The Departed) – and all these movies do a much better job in either building in a surprising twist which totally catches the audiences off-guard or exploiting the conflict between good and bad on both sides in a more interesting way. Granted it is unfair to compare Scott Cooper with Martin Scrosese – but if you are shooting gangster movies this is the most obvious comparison. And in all Scorsese movies, he does a much better job in exploring all these elements mentioned above ([toggle title=”SPOILER FOR THE DEPARTED AND GOOD FELLAS”] Think of Leo’s constant fear of being on the wrong side or Liota’s tale of rising from little delivery boy to big time mobster and the fall to government witness [/toggle]  – and almost all Gangster movies are based on real stories.

Having said all these (sort of) negative things, the movie is shot really beautifully and captures the 70s and 80s flawlessly. As stated, Johnny Depp does a great job instilling fear and dominance into his character and Cooper captures these elements in a great way – what also worked really well was the infusion of real-time footage from the Bulgar crimes and the construction of the scenes beforehand. The movie also chooses a good pace and never stops to be entertaining to watch – so these all worked really well for me. But since I love gangster movies and most of these films are masterpieces of cinema, I have no choice but to compare – and I felt that Black Mass could have done so much more with the material at hand. But still I believe it is worthwhile watching but I think it is ok to wait until it is out on HBO or Netflix.

Info
courtesy of http://impawards.com

courtesy of http://impawards.com

  • Running time: 122 min
  • Genre: Biopic, Thriller
  • Year: 2015

 

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