Review: BLACK MASS (2015)

By Darin Skaggs

The biopic and I were doing good, getting along first with the Martin Luther King Jr. film, Selma that dealt with how racism is sadly still relative problem in our society. Then came Love & Mercy which deals with mental illness as well as tells a compelling story about The Beach Boys front man Brian Wilson. Next the N.W.A movie, Straight Outta Compton is a lesser biopic, but many scenes effectively deal with common events that have happened in Ferguson recently. All these stories are told wonderfully mostly because they are told in creative and interesting ways and have something else to say. Scott Cooper’s Black Mass successfully tells you a story including one of the biggest crime bosses of all time, Whitey Bulger, but fails to accomplish to say anything else about society or what made Bulger tick.

The story follows James “Whitey” Bulger (played extremely well by Johnny Depp), for about twenty years as he becomes an infamous violent criminal as well as helps the FBI take down a part of the Mafia in exchange for years of the agents turning their backs to Bulger’s crimes. The leader of this whole operation, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) is the biggest supporter for Bulger assisting in the FBI and becomes too involved to back out. Everyone else however are skeptical in keeping Whitey as team player as they know what he has done and what he is capable of.   Eventually the whole system comes crashing down which leads to the arrest of many of Bulger’s people, including Connolly, who are being interrogated as a storytelling device to tell the criminal life of Whitey Bulger.

If this film has one aspect going for it, it is the acting. Depp is fantastic and the best any of us has seen him in years. Edgerton does great as well. Those two actors really carry the piece. This whole film is filled with actors that are usually the best part of the movies they are in like Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson and Rory Cochrane. They all do great work with the lack luster script they have been given. Yet, the acting is so good, but cannot even trick you into thinking that this is a good movie. It becomes more and more evident that this is just a biopic that is only interested in telling you the facts of a man’s life rather than exploring what makes this man the way that he is.

Bulger in the early eighties lost both his son and his mother in only a few years. This seems to be attempting to explore the dark nature of Bulger, but it doesn’t go too far to find out what made him so cold and seemingly heartless. He becomes sad about his family members passing, then continues to be a crime boss. Not long after that the movie only becomes interested at the downfall of Whitey and this team throughout the remaining years and not very remarkable one at that. The only part that does work well in the movie is the acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Again the acting is a big part of why these scenes work, the determination on Depp’s face along with the sense of apathy while he is committing these acts of violence is telling. All the while his partners seem to be more and more disturbed throughout and at the same time seem they are trying not to give off the sense of fear they have if they were to cross Bulger on the wrong day.

Black Mass has a number of performances that should be remembered for as great. Sadly there is not much else going for it. It is just a run of the mill biopic complete with uninteresting title cards at the end that wrap up everyone’s story because we have to make the runtime shorter.

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