Johnny Depp “Steals” The Show In ‘Black Mass’ (Movie Review)

Black MassThe following is public knowledge.  James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, Jr., born on September 3, 1929, is a convicted murderer and a former organized crime boss of the Boston Irish mob crew known as the Winter Hill Gang.  US prosecutors indicted Bulger for 19 murders based on grand jury testimony.  Word is he was once an informant for the FBI too.  Bulger fled Boston and went into hiding on December 23, 1994, after being tipped off by his former FBI handler about a pending indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).  You may remember the RICO Act from The Dark Knight, eh?  And so for sixteen years, he remained at large.  For twelve of those years, Bulger was listed second on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, behind only Osama bin Laden.  Talk about being a celebrity, huh?  However, like most gangsters in movies, Whitey was eventually found (in Santa Monica of all places) and captured, in other words, all good things must come to an end.

So why am I telling you all of this history?  Well silly, that’s what Black Mass is all about!  It’s all about the man of the hour here, Whitey Bulger, portrayed by a fabulous makeup job and Johnny Depp.  The film is directed by Scott Cooper and written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, based on the 2001 novel Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.  The mobster movie also stars a multitude of other big household names like Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson (we all saw a lot of her in this year’s Fifty Shades of Grey) and Strain‘s Corey Stoll.  You can’t tell me there’s not a lot of star power in this feature.  Hell to the no!

Like I said up above, Black Mass follows the criminal career of infamous Irish-American mobster Whitey Bulger (played by Depp).  The film thankfully focuses on the period of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as Whitey was solidifying his position as leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang.  However, it does, by the film’s end runtime, bring the viewer up to speed with all current events as it relates to Whitey and his notorious gang.  That’s not what you want to hear though.  You already know to expect a “mafia,” crime style film.  You want to know how was it.  That’s where I can help you out.

So this character of Whitey Bulger, Johnny knocks it out of the park here with his portrayal of the man.  In fact, even down to the endless Boston accents we all know and love (plus big buffount-like hair styles of the period), every performer here brings their A-game.  I can’t in good conscious say anything bad about the acting in Black Mass.  The interview style in which the story is crafted and unfolds keeps you both entertained and engaged throughout even though you already know the ending.  However, I couldn’t help feeling a bit slighted as there’s really nothing new to be found here because of the “known” factor and type of genre film this ultimately is.  The saving grace for me again was Johnny, whom we will talk about more in just a second, and the fact that this was based on a true story.  If y’all know anything about movie, you know that true stories like this make Prime A grade film material, if executed correctly.  Thankfully, that’s the case for Black Mass.

Now I mentioned up above how much I loved Johnny Depp in this role.  The man creeped me out.  I say that in a good way too because his appearance, actions and even non-verbal cues are supposed to creep you the f#$k out.  Except for one scene, they did an outstanding job on the makeup and hair on his character, making Depp for better or worse virtually unrecognizable.  Only once did I slip out of my suspension of disbelief over a bad glue line on the wig near his left temple.  Argh!  I hate when that happens.  However, that’s just it though.  Everything else was spectacular throughout here from the wardrobe and hair styles of the period right down to the authentic backdrops and cars.  I tried really hard to find an out of place car from the period, but try as I might I did not see an errant one.  Not to say that there’s not, but not on my watch there isn’t.  So in other words, the filmmakers did good here.

The thing I believe that holds Black Mass back from ever being referred to as a “great” film of Goodfellas like qualities is that it’s a story of a bad man.  It’s hard to get past that fact.  Sure the guy does some good throughout his life and does have a heart occasionally, but ultimately he’s an arrogant, self-centered and egotistical psychopath whose character really never evolves or transforms into something else, not to mention that of a likable human being (unlike Johnny’s role in my favorite Blow).  Yes, you can praise the filmmakers for the engaging story and even the convincible acting for keeping you in the game, but at the end of the day, Black Mass will never rise to sheer greatness.  There are truly some magnificent parts to be found within here, but the sum outweighs the whole and it’s really all about being on par average.  I will say this though, the score really kept me enthralled.  It was a homage back to the style of mafia films I love while also remaining fresh and a character of its own.  I know that doesn’t make sense now, but when you watch the film listen to the score that propels this interview style narrative forward and pay attention especially close around the transitional pieces.  It’s brilliant, like Depp’s performance here, in its own right.

So that’s really all I have to say on the subject of Black Mass.  Did I like it?  Hell yes I did!   However, in the end, it just felt like 122 minutes of familiarity despite Depp’s shining star (getting him out of a bad role slump as of late), that of his co-star’s equally great performances and of course, duly noted the excellence in the attention to detail throughout here in the period piece.  The question should really be brought up as to whether or not you will see it. Of course you will!  Curiosity killed the cat!  You’re in this one to learn all about the true life/crime story of Whitey Bulger not to mention invest in the man really responsible for making you hand over your hard earned cash in the first place, Mr. Johnny Depp ladies and gentlemen.  Enjoy!

Black Mass poster


Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

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