Synopsis – 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.
My Take – Johnny Depp is a good actor! I am sure no one can deny that fact! This Scorcese inspired gangster flick is essentially a canvas for Johnny Depp to re-thrive from his recently deadbeat career (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, released back in 2011 was his last success). And as expected Depp, as one of the most infamous gangsters of all time, does not disappoint. The control and maturity of the performance is applaud worthy, and maybe award baiting during next year’s Academy Awards. Yet, something never feels right out about this gangster film centered on the true story of “James Whitey Bulger”, a well-known Mobster who was active in South Boston in the period of 1970’s until mid-1990’s. The film is extremely slow paced and it focuses on the small details of Whitey’s crime life, but it is also a breath of fresh air for its realistic portrayal of the gritty criminal life without sensationalizing these gangsters. The violence is real and gruesome and not something worth celebrating here. It does however prove why audiences love the more fast paced fictitious portrayal of these criminal, because it can become a dull exercise at times to portray these characters as real people. My main issue was the nonexistence of a certain necessity: stakes. In all great mafia flicks, stakes are essential. Would “Goodfellas” have been as remarkable if it didn’t feel like any wrong move would set off a universe-ending set of events? Would the “Godfather” have been considered the greatest film of all time if a war wasn’t seconds away from breaking out? This film managed to keep a story that easily could’ve had those steaks from having any at all. As a result, you never care whether the protagonists (whether you consider that to be Bulger or Connolly) lives or dies; and in a mob movie, that is a worse crime than anything committed on screen. It seems director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart) chose to focus only on a handful of key years during Whitey’s reign of terror, perhaps to draw focus on his peak instead of wasting time on his rise or fall. Unfortunately, the result is a dubiously avowed criminal juggernaut who feels–and sometimes looks—like he is made out of paper. Director Scott Cooper strives to portray Whitey Bulger as the boogeyman, an unstoppable nightmare whose actions are made infinitely more terrifying by the knowledge that they exist in reality. But with sloppy writing, downright horrific editing, & bland score the film is dead on arrival.
The story follows Whitey Bulger (Johhny Depp) & his relationship with his childhood buddy & now Boston FBI agent named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) who struck a deal with him during the course of several years. Whitey was asked to snitch on the Italian mafia which would lead to more arrests for Connolly while Whitey was allowed to get away with his criminal undertakings. It was a win-win situation for both of them. The story then closely follows how Whitey went about doing his business with his entrusted men, Kevin (Jesse Plemons) and Steve (Rory Cochrane), performing gruesome executions while the police looked the other way. Meanwhile, Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) starts rising to the top of the Massachusetts Senate, without being involved in his brothers work. Other characters who are simply introduced but not given much to do are Whitey’s partner: Lindsey (Dakota Johnson), Connolly’s right hand man in the agency: John Morris (David Harbour), and Connolly’s wife: Marianne (Julianne Nicholson). The film uses these characters to explore some of the family dynamics and when it does it works to its advantage, but the film feels like it is missing some cohesiveness between each separate individual. Take for instance a scene where Whitey is sharing a meal with Lindsey and their son while he is explaining to him how to get away with hitting a boy in school who is bullying him. The scene works perfectly to give us a sense of how Whitey thinks and acts, but it doesn’t do anything for the film narrative wise and it feels like a separate scene all together. There are several moments like this that seem to be presented only as facts, but these facts don’t add up to much and it drags out the premise making us lose interest in the story. Director Scott Cooper‘s has great actors, cinematography and a unique biography adopted script at hand, yet he fails the film with its editing and directing. The main problems of the latest Hollywood Mobster movies are these actually. The same scenes with individual violent punishments of betray, the boss’s and the gangs sudden rise story, depicted in one scene in a few seconds, boss’s problems shown as his loneliness as he loses his family members or getting frustrated with his wife and old friends. And in the aspect of the gang members, senior to junior, feeling the boss fear with a thinking of the boss is going mad day by day. The all come as in the right and simultaneous way, just as millions of other similar late Hollywood Mobster movies. The film tries to cover too much and thus it lacks focus. This is where other films such as The Departed or Goodfellas succeeded. Even though those films had many layers and characters, they stayed in focus. Here their is no clear main character, a main protagonist or antagonist. Just a bunch of characters in tense situations with some irony and symbolism. However, in the end, there is nothing to hold onto, no lessons, no emotions, love or hate, for any of them.
The missing part was generally the lack of the absorption of the characters by me. It is possible for the director, wanting to stay loyal to the real life story of the Whitey Bulger so that, maybe his calm and creepy silent characteristic depiction was thought to be depicted sovereign. The violence was castrated by the director and the editors maybe, instead of a more novelish way of narration. Nevertheless, I tried to watch it, to get the feeling from a genre that I like to watch. But, for instance, “Kill The Irishman”, “Departed”and some more other examples of TV and cinema productions, telling the inside stories of Irish mobs made me more attached than this film. Unfortunately, I must admit that it would be much more effective with its cast, and unique biographical story. The greatest strength of the film is without a doubt Johnny Depp‘s portrayal of Whitey because it was exciting to finally see him play a straight role once again, well at least close. He’s menacing without going over the top. The prosthetics were a bit distracting, but it was worth it to get to see Depp playing this older man. There are some great scenes where Depp is allowed to shine, but other than that the film does miss a lot of its targets. The talented cast is mostly wasted as Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, and Kevin Bacon are given very little to do. Depp and Edgerton stand out since the primary focus of the film is on their relationship, but the side plots don’t work. Edgerton especially shines the most, at times even stealing the thunder from Depp. While the film tries to focus on other characters it never feels connected to the main relationship that is so central to the story. Director Scott Cooper, after the very disappointing Christian Bale starrer Out of the Furnace has managed to make one of the most twisted, unusual, and mysterious gangster stories into an emotionless web of a film. On the whole, ‘Black Mass’ falls short on expectations, despite some strong performances, the film ends up being dreary and almost downright depressing. Black Mass did not compel me or bring me into this world of South Boston in the 70s and 80s. I knew I was watching a movie the whole time. While being well made and acted, Black Mass completely fails at being even remotely entertaining or immersive. So should you see this movie? -If you love mafia movies of any shape or size, then go see it. -If you love Johnny Depp, wait until it comes out on demand or on DVD. -If you don’t love mafia movies, haven’t seen many mafia movies, or just have none of the listed qualities above, then don’t see this film.
Director – Scott Cooper
Rated – R
Run Time – 122 minutes