Black Mass (2015)
Black Mass (2015)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: September 18th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Scott Cooper Actors: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, Juno Temple

 


 

T

rue stories often make great subjects for film. And the notorious, real-life tale of a heinous crime lord who rose to power in the late ‘70s through a collusive alliance with the FBI certainly seems like a promising foundation. And yet, though building upon favorable groundwork and populated with engaging performances, “Black Mass” loses much of its appeal by relating its shocking plot with a noticeable absence of panache. Despite a narrative involving vicious gangsters, corrupt officials, and flagrant homicide, the film often exhibits the straightforward style of a documentary; many of the moments that should evoke traumatic awe register much milder intrigue. For a movie relying heavily upon transformative roles by notable actors, “Black Mass” allows a stale structure and lusterless first impressions of its cast of dissolute souls to dampen the drama.

When the Italian Mafia begins edging in on the felonious endeavors of South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang, hoodlum James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) knows he must act fast to protect his territory. Forming an alliance with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), Bulger works as an informant, aiding in the Bureau’s efforts to bring down the Angiulo crime family. But as his power rapidly escalates, Whitey and his merciless cohorts Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), John Martorano (W. Earl Brown), and Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons) embark on a rampage of unchecked atrocities that threaten to collapse their criminal empire.

The film opens with the studying of faces – faces that have been distorted by makeup and contact lenses and hairstyles, which aim to remove the baggage of the stars’ previous roles but fail to do so entirely. It’s a performance piece, with Depp heading an ensemble cast of actors donning unusual personas, but never do the leads disappear into their characters; lurking irremovably underneath those vampiric blue eyes and the appropriate creepiness of his actions is still a recognizable Johnny Depp.

“Jimmy’s no ordinary criminal.” Unlike “Goodfellas,” from which “Black Mass” steals a key scene (involving a conversation that takes a turn toward the unexpected), the glamor and appeal of the gangsterism on display has been completely expunged. There are no shiny cars or exclusive clubs (save for a single scene in Miami, which exists mainly for a murder opportunity) or fashionable girls or lavish expenditures of money. Instead, the mobsters are grotesque, humorless, and unfeelingly violent, situated in a warzone of filthy streets and rundown bars. Similarly, their motives aren’t exhibited as a chivalrous code of honor, but rather as cold psychopaths executing targets on a whim. The allure of the lifestyle is utterly absent; even the desire for money has no manifested bearing on their conduct.

Just as no effort is made to define a revelatory purpose for this conglomeration of corrupt, embittered, backstabbing opponents, there’s no artistry in the presentation. It’s a cops-and-robbers procedural, where the antagonists are indistinguishable from the protagonists, and investigations and murders are conducted purely for a sense of faithfulness to the source material. The attention to detail is consistent and the recreations of a specific time period are convincing, but they’re both mere visual gimmicks; the story and its impact aren’t boosted to any degree. It’s an examination of real-world monsters, stuck to a true-to-life basis and condemned to a sourly anticlimactic, un-cinematic outcome – which is made worse by the narrative, structured in a hopelessly generic manner that reveals too much at the beginning, stifles drama throughout, and ends in a ridiculous series of codas (which are even interrupted by another parting shot). While the performances are intense and likely to garner critical acclaim, “Black Mass” is all fierceness and authenticity in lieu of entertainment.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10