Most guys, at least at some point in their lives, are intrigued by the lifestyle, vigor, and ruthlessness of a gangster. We have yet another gangster bio-pic to sink our teeth into with Black Mass. This film tells the story of the psychotic Boston gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger, incredibly depicted by Johnny Depp, and his partnership with FBI Agent John Conolly, played by the talented Joel Edgerton. The loyalty runs deep between these two characters, and they make their way to the top of the South Boston playground, until the FBI acts as gravity and the inevitable happens.
Scott Cooper, director of Out of the Furnace and Crazy Heart, does a solid job of depicting tension and the juxtaposition between the life of a criminal and a man of the law. The picture is tinted in a dreary, gritty palette, contrasting with the bold characters that sprinkle the film with blood. There are some fantastic scenes, most of them with Depp as Bulger, but they don’t quite add up to an amazing film; there are only moments of greatness, it seems, because Bulger is depicted to be a one-note character. The film would’ve benefited more if it delved into the psyche of Bulger. FBI agent Conolly was also a character that could’ve been fleshed out a little more, because he also felt like he didn’t have much of a character arc. On top of that, the film could’ve been stronger with more focus on the brotherly bond between Bulger and his younger brother Billy, the Massachusetts Senate President. However, the shortcomings of the Black Mass script is made up by the effort in the performances.
Johnny Depp looks like he’s wearing Kabuki make-up tweaked for a Horror film. The upside is that he knocks it out of the park with his performance, allowing us to overlook the poor make-up job. Depp is a menacing, evil monster as Bulger, and he’s very good at being bad. You already know that Bulger will do some damage, but the subtle ways that Depp oozes evil is quite the treat to watch. There are two scenes in particular where he’s perfectly sinister. On the other hand, you have Edgerton playing Agent Conolly, and he does a stellar job as well. Edgerton as Agent Conolly seems to want money and fame from the get-go; sure, he says that he wants to take down the Mafia, but that doesn’t seem to be what sets off the sparkle in his eyes. There’s also some fine work done by Benedict Cumberbatch, playing Bulger’s younger brother Billy. He seems to be underused in the film, but he manages to do the best with what he’s given.
What Black Mass does do differently from other gangster films is that it doesn’t romanticize the lifestyle; it actually makes it seem disgusting. There isn’t much in Black Mass that we haven’t seen before, in better films; however, it’s still a solid movie that boasts some great performances, especially from Johnny Depp. Watch the film for Depp’s disgustingly evil, admirably confident performance as James “Whitey” Bulger over everything else. Depp is back in form, and hopefully he chooses more roles like this one.
“Take your shot, but make it your best, cause I get up, I eat ya.”