|Johnny Depp points the finger in, Black Mass|
Period films have always been popular especially, gangster pictures. I believe that those types of films are even more well-liked today because of one painful question; Who really wants to see a film that's based on modern day people anyway? We are spoiled, lazy, and we worship the most fraudulent of celebrities; The zero-talent reality show "star", with their overindulgent lifestyles rubbed in our faces on a weekly basis. I know that there are more important things going on than just that but, it's always overshadowed by our smartphone, fast food, inattentive culture (rant over). Films set in other times are like an artistic window to the past, even if they're profane and bloody. Frankly, they're also more interesting. Without bringing up the most well-known and obvious gangster movies, I'll bring up a few that are more related to this review. Films like Donnie Brasco, The Boondock Saints, The Departed, and Public Enemies, have one thing or another in common with this; Boston and Johnny Depp but, they're all gangster.
Johnny has played in gangster films before but, his best stab at the genre is as notorious Beantown banger, Whitey Bulger. Now regardless of what has been said in the media recently about this film's events being inaccurate, I take this as what everyone else should which is, it's a Hollywoodized version of true events, and that it's also based on a book. Black Mass is not the end-all be-all gangster picture that we had all hoped it would be yet, it is an intriguing character driven piece that keeps your eyes fixed on the screen at all times. First and foremost, this is a Johnny Depp vehicle that he milks for all its worth until the life is squeezed out of everything around him. This movie is dark and gloomy, a perfect setting for its subject matter. Filmed on location, every distinctive look of Boston that we've seen in other films is brought to life here. I find it fascinating that even though the entirety of this film is bleak, I still get a strong sense of a community that I would love to see and be a part of. That's how contrasting this film can be. Sure there are murders, beat downs, and unpleasantries aplenty but, there's a strong level of pride in the little things that are done in between those moments. Things like helping an old lady with her groceries, giving an impressionable child the wrong advice for all the right reasons, or playing a game of gin with his mother after a hard night's illegalities instead of shooting off straight to bed, all put a human side to the monster that we've been shown and frankly, that makes him even more terrifying.
There's an overall feeling of familiarity with Black Mass that keeps it from being great. We've seen this movie before scattered about in other films. After many decades of gangster pictures, it was inevitable that the genre would start to lack in originality. Thankfully, Depp's mesmerizing performance and some notable supporting characters, makes this film special anyway. He is so effective in scenes where he's not so subtly threatening someone yet, he's being so simultaneously polite that his potential victims can only quiver in terrified obedience. Joel Edgerton (Warrior) as the film's other focal character, is for the most part a two-faced FBI agent that places neighborhood loyalty above civil obligation. However, once his story has reached its climax, you feel a touch of sympathy for him as someone that let his ambition and trust in an old friend, cloud his morality. Memorable performances from Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights), Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County), Juno Temple (Maleficent) and Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street), are small but powerful in their own right. Other roles were either too small or questionable in this film's casting choices, like with Kevin Bacon (Mystic River), Corey Stoll (Ant-Man), Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern), and Adam Scott (Step Brothers). They were good but, it seemed almost like these known to semi-known actors were only involved to give Black Mass some sort of validation. They didn't need to. Depp carries the load perfectly fine. The last act deals with the inevitable consequences for Whitey & co., along with Edgerton. That's when more of the film's focus shifts from Depp to Edgerton, and it loses a few points in my book. Edgerton's Conolly character is very good but, Depp's Whitey is far more interesting.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Black Mass
The Good- Don't double-dip the beer nuts bowl in front of Whitey, don't tell Whitey that you're gonna take his kid off of life support, don't give away the family recipe so easily to Whitey, and don't ever fake an illness to get away from Whitey at dinnertime. Just don't.
The Bad- Jesse Plemons' character is the first one on screen and it teases for an Oscar worthy performance when, you barely get to see him for the rest of the freaking movie! What the hell? He deserved more scenes.
The Ugly- Aside from Depp's receding hairline and creepy off-blue eye contacts, that big brown dead tooth grabs too much attention. With all of the money he made, why didn't Whitey ever get that damn thing fixed? Maybe he kept it as a tool for his overall intimidation factor? I mean the man was very street-smart.
Final Thoughts on Black Mass
Black Mass is definitely worth seeing just on Depp's acting brilliance alone. There's plenty of really good scenes in it as well to keep things from getting stale. Don't take everything in this film as fact. Just sit back and enjoy some good era-based drama. Maybe afterwards, you can go home and watch Jack Nicholson's performance in The Departed, which is loosely based off of Whitey Bulger. That's another Boston gangster film that doesn't disappoint. Next, watch Johnny take his career back downhill in the next Pirates of the Caribbean film. Oh Johnny, you're smarter than that. Maybe not.
Rating- 7.5 out of 10
Rating- 7.5 out of 10
Black Mass (2015)
R | 2h 3min | Biography, Crime, Drama | 18 September 2015 (USA)
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.
Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Mark Mallouk (screenplay), Jez Butterworth (screenplay)
Stars: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson