Black Mass - Review
The last time I recall seeing Johnny Depp portray a meaningful real life human being it was the story brought to the big screen by Director Michael Mann’s portrayal of the 1930’s notorious bank robbing criminal John Dillinger in the film “Public Enemy”. Now leap forward almost half a century and we find Depp taking on another real life gangster in Director’s Scott Cooper film about James Whitey Bulger; essentially a cold blooded criminal and also like Dillinger became equally famous enough to make it on to the FBI’s notorious “America’s Most Wanted” list.
The film starts out around 1975 in South Boston, Massachusetts where we find an ambitious FBI Agent named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton seen recently in “The Gift” and previously in “Zero Dark Thirty”). A local “Southey” kid who manages to escape the easy life of local crime in his neighborhood by working his way up to being a Special Agent with the Bureau. And because he has knowledge of that area of Boston he is transferred back to his home town to deal with the wanton murderous activities of the Italian Mob who is completely out of control with crime in the area.
Being so ambitious to succeed, one day Agent Connolly comes up with what sounds like on the surface an absolutely ludicrous idea of the FBI working with a former childhood acquaintance and Irish mobster named James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp). His idea? To have a working collaborative relationship with the FBI by having Bulger inform on his Italian mobster contacts and activities and therefore eliminating both a common enemy for the FBI and Bulger. The catch? Bulger has to stick to petty crimes and no killing anyone. Sounds reasonable enough. What can go wrong?
Of course as you can imagine nothing can come good of any alliance when the criminal enemy of my enemy is my friend. Still the Bureau higher ups give the OK to this unholy alliance, that not only is doomed to fail, it will definitely spiral out of control due to Connolly ever deepening involvement in covering up for Bulger’s sociopath violent pension to solve all of his problems impulsively with two in the back of the head of anyone who crosses him in the slightest.
PROS: Depp’s powerful performance is not only riveting, captivating and mesmerizing, he is charismatic and creepy as Bulger. He reminded me without fail that he is a “Marlon Brando-esque” superb actor of the highest order when he makes up his mind to really occupying the minds of meaningful, complex and thought provoking characters instead of his typical one dimensional efforts, albeit sometime funny, with those totally fictional characters like “Captain Jack Sparrow”. And yet in an odd way, while Depp is playing a real life man of flesh blood here, he in a metaphoric kind of way is telling the story of another fictional character aka Frankenstein, only with a gun. Make no mistake about it, Depp’s Bulger is a very evil man who will kill you and eat lunch seconds later without batting an eye.Also make no mistake about this; Depp owns the screen; intoxicatingly so every single second and frame he is on. This is brilliant acting here.
CONS: Black Mass while overall is interesting to watch by learning the depths of the murderous activities that occurred from this screwed up alliance between Bulger, his Winter Hill Gang and the FBI, the films basic problem is that is all we learn. Bulger kills and the FBI looks the other way, over and over and over again, so much so to the point of almost making and showcasing this one plot point repeatedly well over half the entire 2 hour running time.
What was missing and I wished they had told some of this story, were all of the legal intricacies involved in this arrangement and also telling more of the story of Bulger’s decade’s long run of hiding in California. There is nothing at all about Bulger’s time hiding in plain sight as a fugitive, which for me would have added several more subplots that this film seem seriously lacking in its overall development.
Finally, I am a stickler for good writing and directing and it was obvious to me Black Mass had a couple seemingly poorly edited - not so thoroughly developed scenes where the principles would almost seem to be speaking in broken English. When you tell a person’s dramatic story sometimes you got to give them just a few more words to say so as to make it sound believable to the ear and not like someone rushing to get to the next scene.
CONCLUSION: In case you were wondering "Black Mass” means in Catholicism to be a travesty of the Roman Catholic Mass by the worshiping of Satan and or witches. Watching the film story of criminal James Bulger, being a devil worshiper would of seem mild compare to the cold bloody carnage he laid waste to his victims.
I enjoyed Black Mass and overall it holds up rather well for the entire film – you should see it. It gives a reasonable sense of just how mean a man Bulger was with good, well-executed and solid story telling. But the most significant thing you will remember is Johnny Depp. When he is on the screen every word, look, gaze, frown, growl, smirk and every brown tooth smile matters and means something; even when he utters not a single word.Depp’s performance here is masterful and brings to life a man with a dead soul just as was the case with the fictional monster of Frankenstein, only in this case our South Boston monster “Franky” here, well he got a gun.
3 -1/2 Stars