Spoiler free (for the most part) review.
Movie: Black Mass
Released: September 18, 2015
Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth, Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
Stars: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson
Black Mass is the story of FBI agent James Connolly (Edgerton) and his insane hero-worship of James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp). In order to clear out the Italian Mafia out of South Boston, Connolly gets his FBI superiors (Bacon and Scott) to sign off on using Bulger as an informant. In return, the FBI keeps the local cops off of the Winter Hill Gang for minor things like gambling and loan sharking. They make a violent and crazy gangster pinky swear not to kill anyone or run drugs. Alas, the FBI got played. Bulger would use Connolly’s loyalty (and blind eye) to run drugs, guns, racketeering, and kill those who would rat him out without anyone taking him down.
Everyone in the film is pretty good. Cumberbatch plays Billy Bulger (James’s State Senator brother) and Southie accent was wobbly at best (someone really needs to hire him a better dialect coach cause his American accents are not cutting it), but he oozes charm the younger Bulger brother needed to make people forget he was related to one of the most well-known and feared gangsters in Boston. Edgerton as the FBI guy giving Bulger his free pass to whatever plays up the hero-worship a bit too much, but in a way it works in the movies favor. There is no way we could believe Connolly would allow Bulger to get away with (and possibly participate) some of the horrible shit he had done if Connolly didn’t hold the guy in deep reverence. Cochrane’s performance is quiet and soulful, it is almost easy to overlook him as Bulger’s right hand man, Flemmi, but he sells the part even when Bulger is doing something pretty awful to someone Flemmi cares about. The hands down, run away with the Oscar star is Johnny Depp. His portrayal of Bulger is chilling. He never yells at anyone, he talks so low it is almost a guttural whisper and somehow that is more terrifying than any gangster who runs around the screen screaming like an unhinged banshee. I don’t know if it was the lighting or something done in post but Depp’s eyes would glow when Bulger was doing or saying anything menacing. He is a monster worthy of nightmares.
Cooper takes the quite approach with this movie. It is easy to think that a film with this much testosterone running around, it would be all about the yelling, screaming, and dick measuring. Well, there is some of the dick measuring moments, but for the most part the conversations are quiet and tense. Even the killings are done with a tranquility one reserves for taking a walk in the park. It makes this movie stand out so much from its other gangster film brethren. This is only the third time Cooper has sat in the director’s chair and so far I like what he is doing. The ending feels a bit rushed, but the initial run time was over three hours so the film had to wrap itself up in a neat little bow kinda quickly so run time could be just over two hours.
The biggest distraction for me was Johnson and Nicholson. They were not bad in the movie, they were just not really in the movie. Less than halfway thru the film Johnson’s character is never seen again. I think their characters had names, but they are treated as wifey one and wifey two and Juno Temple is just that one whore in that one bit. I shouldn’t bitch too much about the lack of presence by the female characters, a good deal of the other top billed names come and go from the movie so quick you kinda ask yourself “is that all they get?” In reality the movie is all about Connolly and Bulger, everyone else is just background noise.
We are entering into the Oscar trash season so we are going to be subjected to movies that are “important,” but at least this one is a bit different from the tug-at-your-heart-strings-with-all-the-feels films coming up. It will be interesting to see how Depp’s performance will stack up next to some of the other Oscar beggars this year.
Are you guys wanting to see Black Mass? What did you think of Depp’s performance? Did the contacts kinda distract any of you? It did me a little in the beginning. Talk to me in the comments section.