Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper is a film with an absolutely captivating lead performance by Johnny Depp at its core. Unfortunately the rest of the film focuses on a bland (what should be side plot) that over the 2 hour run time is constantly circling the drain, until it inevitably is sucked down into complete disinterest.
Black Mass tells the story of James “Whitey” Bulger, played by Johnny Depp who was one of south Boston’s most infamous gangsters. Alongside the frightening acts of Bulger is his collusion with the FBI and how some of the people entrenched deep within the organisation seem to be helping him to stay in top as one of the most ruthless Gangsters in American history.
What will undoubtedly be talked about for a long time is the absolutely brilliant performance by Johnny Depp. This is certainly his best work in a very long time and the praise and recognition he is receiving is well deserved. Depp disappears into the role of Whitey Bulger and truly becomes a sinister looking and acting individual. From the way he walks, talks and looks, Depp delivers something that will certainly get him some acclaim in the upcoming award season.
What I found to be interesting about how the film handled Depp and his character was that it at times felt like the film was shooting him, lighting him and just generally placing him in shots that made him stand out more than anyone else in it. There were times where it felt like there were two ways of delivering the film – there were the normal shots that showed the rest of the cast of characters and then there was the other way of delivering it that focused on Bulger. He really does elevate above everyone else in the film.
So it’s a shame that despite how much Depp and Bulger stand out in Black Mass, the film at times seems to forget the good thing it has. There were too many points in the film where I felt like I was crying out for more of him. The film would instead cut to its other main plot line and then focus on it to a debilitating degree. When you have a person as interesting and unsettling as Whitey Bulger you do not then cut away to a bunch of FBI agents arguing the same argument in an office – I understand that this element of the story is important to the Whitey Bulger tail, but things get a little ridiculous after a while.
It also doesn’t help that this secondary story line (that annoyingly felt like the only one at times) is not very interesting to focus on. You jump from something violent and wincing to something that is a circular conversation that you’ve already sat through multiple times before.
The positive that does come from both these story lines though is the great supporting cast of actors and some great performances by them all. Joel Edgerton who plays FBI agent John Connolly does a great job in his role – despite being a part of the weaker side of the film he certainly still delivers something memorable. The same can actually be said for all the actors in the film, even if some fall into the less interesting side of the film.
There are good points to Black Mass and there are bad points to Black Mass, but I think the thing that stands out the most, and is the thing that ultimately harms the whole experience of the film is the poor handling of how the overall story an how it is told. I’ve touched on it a little bit already with the secondary story line being dull and over bearing but what it all feeds into is lazy story telling techniques and a lack of direction within the film.
This is a film that is about James “Whitey” Bulger. But at the end of the film I felt I had no better understanding of the man and what made him tick inside. We bounce around a lot between varying moments within the Bulger history and it never really feels cohesive. It’s almost like a clip show scary or tense moments that are inter-spliced with suits talking. I wanted so much more of Whitey Bulger and his personal story but Black Mass was unwilling to give it to me, and it ended up wrapping up what was an interesting man with a big dud of an anti-climax and some words on the screen that told me how him and his friend’s lives ended. It was so disappointing.
I was really hoping for something for meaningful and exciting from Black Mass. I didn’t get that – what I did get was a brilliant performance by Johnny Depp and some interesting characters, but sadly those weren’t enough to save this film.
I will not be recommending Black Mass. Perhaps if it shows up on your preferred streaming service it would be worth your time but right now it’s one you can probably let pass.
What did you think of Johnny Depp’s performance in Black Mass? Maybe let me know in the comments down below. If you want to keep up with the rest of my reviews then perhaps follow me on Twitter, @GavinsTurtle. Last but not least have a great weekend.