Misery acquaints the mob with strange bedfellows. Or so does Johnny Depp portraying notorious Boston gangster James Whitey Bulger in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass.” The film shows the rise and fall of Bulger and his infamous Winter Hill gang. The movie chronicles the later years of Bulger’s life as the body count stacks up under his wing, while making a deal with the FBI to be an informant for the Italian Mafia. The FBI agent in charge, John Connolly grew up with Bulger and starts the alliance. Needless to say murder and corruption amass in this engrossing crime drama.
This is a good film, filled with powerhouse actors and an incredibly menacing performance by Johnny Depp. Over the years, Depp has stooped to cartoon level, playing these off the wall Disney characters and other strange Tim Burton creations and I have longed to see him return to real life acting. And here he delivers. Depp’s version of Bulger is truly terrifying, realistic and even psychopathic. Johnny Depp gives one of the greatest performances of his career and hopefully he may be hearing some Oscar chimes for this amazing portrayal. Joel Edgerton does fine work as Whitey’s friend, FBI agent Connolly as well as Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger. There are other fine performances from Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Johnson, but their characters were kind of pushed to the side which is unfortunate. The editing was slow and captivating which helped create some serious tension between characters. There is a scene between Bulger and another FBI agent over a family recipe that echoes back to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Whitey in this scene is dripping with evil and the naked skin surrounding his portruding eyeballs is something terrifying.
The cinematography was spectacular and the dark tones help set the mood for this dreary story. The film is really well shot and a murder massacre scene with Bulger in a parking lot is staged to perfection as it builds up the intensity. However where this film falls short is the actual story. There were long stretches in between killings and murdering escapades that dragged on a little too long. Some of the story seemed a little irrelevant and the actual FBI chase hunt was in the film for the last ten minutes or so. I think the cat mouse game would have worked better had it been in the film for a lot longer. Also Dakota Johnson, who plays Bulger’s wife literally disappears and we never find out what happens to her. A handful of characters in the film have no resolutions which is unfortunate. With “Goodfellas,” we get full closure for all characters involved and there are a lot of them but we do get some closure. And that’s the biggest issue with the film is that we have all of these juicy characters but we only get resolution with the bad ones and not the innocent ones that were also affected like Bulger’s wife or Connolly’s wife. Seriously, what the hell happened to them? The sluggish story and slow building of tension is the biggest fault with “Black Mass,” and it doesn’t rise to the greatness of “L.A. Confidential,” or “Goodfellas.” Instead, we are left with a pretty decent film with amazing character actors. Johnny Depp steals the show here and makes “Black Mass” worth watching.
I have been a big fan of Scott Cooper. He directed “Crazy Heart” and last year’s sleeper “Out of the Furnace” which I thought was an incredible film. “Black Mass” will never rise to be on the same level of Scorsese’s films or Coppola’s films for that matter but “Black Mass” succeeds in telling a riveting story of the ruthless Boston kingpin in his prime doing what he did best. I can’t say that “Black Mass” is one of the best films of the year, but it is worth a trip to the movies this fall if not for the story, then go watch Johnny Depp’s return to greatness. If you shy away from violence then stay clear of “Black Mass,” because this is the most violent picture of the year. But if gangsters and killing is your thing, then I say go for it.