Movie Review: “Black Mass” – Not That Goodfellas

Written by Jesse Gelinas September 24, 2015

Depp and Edgerton in Black Mass

The 90s were an amazing time for gangster cinema. Scorsese hit his stride and brought us “Goodfellas” and ‘Casino.” We had “Donnie Brasco,” “Carlito’s Way,” and “A Bronx Tale.” Basically, mafia stories peaked. Lately, there has been an unfortunate dearth in good mob films. Enter Scott Cooper and “Black Mass.” This biopic following James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was supposed to not only tell us about America’s most notorious gangster, but also bring us the long-awaited comeback of Johnny Depp from Burton Land. Sadly, this flick only gets half the job done.

“Black Mass” chronicles the rise and eventual fall of violent Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) through the 70s and 80s. Of particular focus, is Bulger’s alliance with the FBI through childhood friend, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who recruits Bulger as an informant to help bring down the Italian mafia. We then watch as Bulger uses his newfound immunity to expand his empire, eliminate his enemies, and essentially have a monopoly of organized crime in his city.

“Take your shot, but make it your best, ’cause I get up, I eat you.”

The film boasts an incredible cast. Depp and Edgerton lead an ensemble which includes Kevin bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Corey Stoll, Rory Cochrane, and Peter Sarsgaard. It’s a stacked cast that delivers several standout performances that will likely garner some mc deserved awards buzz come the season. Deep leads the tremendous cast as the homicidal Bulger, in what is surely his darkest and most evil role to date. Putting aside perhaps Sweeney Todd, this is the first time I can recall seeing Depp portray a truly evil, violent character. It is a refreshing (and long overdue) departure from his recent slew of whacky family-friendly characters in various Tim Burton films, or the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Depp went through a real transformation (aided by impressive makeup) to become Whitey Bulger, and will hopefully continue on this path, to get back to the serious acting that he’s capable of.

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass

Where the film suffers is its shoddy, disjointed narrative. While one can see the Goodfellas-esque style Cooper was shooting for, it just falls flat. Rather than create a flowing narrative, the film feels more like a collection of ‘cool’ scenes that were through up and created independently, before being slapped together into a 2-hour slideshow. The film jumps years at a time, seemingly on a whim. We never get enough time in one place to get our bearing and see what is happening; only snippets. The performances help keep each scene engaging, but they don’t help the story feel like it’s moving, and ultimately, the film misses the mark by lacking a solid, grounded plot.

“You didn’t get in trouble because you hit someone. You got in trouble because you hit someone in front of other people.”

Overall, nothing in “Black Mass” is groundbreaking. The basic plot and themes have been seen countless times, and in more interesting ways. It suffers from a lack of focus on anything other than Bulger’s evil nature. The silver lining is the number of wonderful performances, led by Depp’s award-worthy turn as Whitey. Hopefully this will lead to more serious roles for him in the future, and remind moviegoers that Johnny Depp is more than a man in makeup with a funny voice. He is one of the great actors of our time.

My Rating: 6/10

Poster for Black Mass

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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