Black Mass (2015)

30 Sep

Once the target of every teen girl’s dream in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Johnny Depp has seemingly fallen off the radar lately. One too many childish blockbuster roles with the likes of Tim Burton and Disney have suggested Depp’s artistic prime and affinity for serious adult fare might have faded.

That was, until director Scott Cooper (Into The Furnace, Crazy Heart) decided to make a feature film off legendary Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, and cast Depp as the lead.

Black Mass tells the real life story of Bulger during the later years of his criminal career. Known for his ruthless ferocity and known ties to FBI informants, Bulger was, historically, one of the most infamous leaders of organized crime in Boston.  With a phenomenal supporting cast (one of the year’s best, no doubt) including Jesse Plemons, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, Julianne Nicholson, Bill Camp, Rory Cochrane, and Corey Stoll, Black Mass builds an effective narrative with a wide array of housewifes, criminals, prostitutes, FBI officers, junkies, CEOs, and everyone inbetween. The story weaves in and out of these various characters, but mostly focuses on how Bulger is staying off law enforcement’s radar by forging a tight-knit friendship with a certain Officer John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

It’s a compelling watch as we see how exactly these characters are interacting (often in the form of lying, threatening, or murdering) with each other. Editing is fast and speedy, giving just enough time to let the audience digest each new piece of information before moving on to the next. The screenplay, adapted from the true crime novel by Dick Lehr and Gerard K. O’Neill, sizzles with gangster noir tendencies.

Somehow though, once you see past the starry ensemble of characters, Black Mass feels like it can’t escape the shadow of previous and far more prestigious crime flicks like The Departed, (Jack Nicholson allegedly based his character off of Whitey) The Godfather, and Goodfellas.  Though it does offer some interesting ideas within the genre, you can’t help but wonder if this film could have existed without road being paved already by Martin Scorsese.  Black Mass is all stuff we have seen before, but it’s still engaging thanks to some skillful direction and stellar chemistry between a vast array of actors.

Bottom Line: While not quite as innovative or thematically rich as it’s predecessors, Black Mass is a satisfying addition to the gangster film genre and boasts an overdue (and for once, serious) performance from actor Johnny Depp. 

 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: The Departed – cell phones + Johnny Depp in prosthetic makeup 

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