Saturday, September 19, 2015

Black Mass Review

As was probably the case with most people, Black Mass first grabbed my attention with the arrival of the first trailer. That family recipe sequence was genius and Johnny Depp was absolutely chilling. I've liked Johnny Depp for a long time. Many would say they have given up on him as an actor because a long string of horrible roles in horrible movies. I've never jumped on that bandwagon. Yes, there have been some that have been over the top and cheesy. Yes, he's done the Jack Sparrow type role several times. But he's had some decent roles since the first Pirates movie that people have seemed to overlook and he's also been a part of several movies where he was decent despite the awful movie around him. So I feel he's been unfairly criticized as an actor. Thus when I saw that he was doing this role as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, I was excited that the unwarranted Johnny Depp hate would leave. Mostly, though, I was excited to see this movie because it seemed like the type of movie that was right down my alley. Yet I knew little about the true story of Whitey Bulger, so I did some research on his life and suddenly I was even more intrigued. This story is really interesting. After seeing the movie, I would say that this movie has done the story justice. It's not without its issues, but overall I think would say that this is definitely worth checking out.

If you haven't heard of Whitey Bulger, at one point in his life he was #2 on the FBI's most wanted list, behind only Osama Bin Laden. It's safe to say that he was a pretty bad dude. Black Mass focuses on his time spent as an FBI informant in Boston for about 20 years starting in the mid-70's, which was a rather shocking ordeal. Early in his life, he was friends with one John Connolly, who became an FBI agent. Connolly was set on taking down the Irish Mafia there in Boston and he felt that the way to do this was through Whitey Bulger, who was the leader of the Irish Mob. So Connolly approached Bulger and the two formed a certain alliance. Connolly would help the FBI completely ignore everything Bulger was doing and Bulger would provide Connolly with secrets about the Italian Mafia that would help them take down the Mafia. Bulger states in the movie that he is not a fan of people secretly ratting out other people. If he found out about anyone doing this to him, that person usually ended up dead. But he justified his actions based on the fact that the people in the Mafia deserved to be taken down. How this managed to go on for 20 years is beyond me, but it sure made for an interesting movie that showed that the world is often is a bad, corrupt place.

One really interesting thing about this movie is that for most of the movie there really is no protagonist. This isn't one of those gangster movies that glorifies gangs and violence. It's not a dark comedy. Neither Whitey Bulger nor John Connolly are portrayed as some sort of anti-hero. It's just a movie where a lot of bad people are doing a lot of bad things. Until the Yellowjacket comes in to save the day. If you've seen Ant-Man, you'll know what I'm talking about. Some may not like the idea of no hero. If you don't like a movie that's mostly dark and grim the whole time, this might not be your cup of tea. To me it felt very real. This was an event that actually happened and I felt this was an honest way to tell the story. At the same time, I was also really intrigued by the character of Whitey Bulger. Yes, he was a bad dude doing awful things, but he was also a pretty deep character. He was married with a kid. He cared for his wife. He certainly loved his kid. There was an old lady around the area that he adored. He was devastated when his mother died. He had a decent relationship with his brother played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Similar things could be said about Joel Edgerton's character of John Connolly. This was great because it's good to have interesting villains with depth to them.

Everyone's talking about the acting in this movie. So let's talk about the acting in this movie. Yes, it's true. Johnny Depp is fantastic! He completely disappears in this role and is thus unrecognizable. Yes, all the makeup is a big reason why he is literally unrecognizable. But even if he looked like Johnny Depp, I still might say that because he doesn't act or sound like Johnny Depp at all. He's super creepy throughout the whole movie in the way he talks and the way he carries himself. He just oozes out evil the whole movie and it's just fantastic. I'm not going to say it's his best acting job yet, but when we look back on Johnny Depp's career, this will definitely be up there. If Steve Carrell can get an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, Johnny Depp better get one for Black Mass. Depp isn't the only great actor in this, though. This movie is loaded with amazing performances. Joel Edgerton pulls off yet another amazing performance. Benedict Cumberbatch finally does something different after being almost typecast as the super genius in every movie. He has a Boston accent in this that makes it weird when he talks because it doesn't sound like Cumberbatch. Well done. Kevin Bacon is in this and nails his role. Julianne Nicholson is amazing as John Connolly's wife. Corey Stoll is great in his few moments towards the end. All the side characters who I don't know were great to watch. Even Dakota Johnson from Fifty Shades of Grey did a good job in the first part of the movie that she was is, which was possibly the most surprising. So yes, overall an excellent cast full of people who gave it their all for this.

If I have one major concern with this movie its that I felt at times it was actually pretty slow. This is not a fast-paced, extremely intense thriller. Yes, it's dark and grim. Yes, there are plenty of times where the movie has you on the edge of your seat. But there are also plenty of times where I felt the movie just slowly wandered through the life of Whitey Bulger without a clear purpose or a destination in mind. When moments like this were happening, the counter-point that I came up with in my mind was that this probably what it was like in real life. They had this deal in place for like 20 years, so there were probably many times where Bulger just wandered through life, killing people who upset or betrayed him. I also got to the point where there were so many deaths in the movie that I was almost past-feeling. They'd introduce a character and the second that character came on screen, I knew that he/she was going to die fairly soon and when it happened I wasn't as sad or as emotionally distraught as I should've been or as I was towards the beginning of the movie. It's almost like the movie got fairly predictable as it lost it's way a bit.

Overall, though, the concerns of it being a bit slow and predictable as it wandered through Bulger's life weren't big enough for me to not enjoy this movie. It's not going to show up on any top ten list at the end of the year for me and may not be the type of movie that sticks with me for a long period of time, but it still was a very worthwhile movie to see. It was slow, but there were many times where that slow pace worked very well as it slowly built to some major event. The score, by the way, was very chilling. Even though when the music played you knew it meant that someone was probably about to die, it still worked very well and added perfectly to the creepiness of Johnny Depp's character. Yes, he was fantastic. I really hope he gets recognition at the end of the year because this is one of the better acting performances that I've seen so far this year. No, this is not a happy movie. It's dark and grim and leaves you sad about a lot of the things that happen in this world. If dark is not you, then don't worry about this one. You probably weren't interested in the first place, so no surprise on your end. But if you do like dark and you want to see Johnny Depp nail the performance of Whitey Bulger, than definitely go see it. My grade for Black Mass is an 8/10.


  1. Agreed. I was legit disappointed. I feel this story would've been better off in the hands of a different director. Scott Cooper is definitely good at crafting a story (he was great with Crazy Heart)....but in this case (and also with Out of the Furnace) this story would've been much more interesting with a better score and different direction. A lot of the tense sequences weren't as tense as they could've been.

    Overall, still a good watch. But I imagine most people would get bored by this movie unfortunately.

    1. I think that's a fair assessment. Totally agree. This could've been much better than it was