Black Mass – Movie Review
Black Mass – R
Release Date: Fri 18 Sep 2015
Black Mass is the true story of Boston gangster Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, a criminal kingpin and brother of a state senator who became an FBI informant in order to use the FBI to take out rival criminal organizations. He then managed to avoid prosecution and escaped for over a decade on the most wanted list.
Bulger’s story is a compelling one on paper. The man got over on his rivals using the federal government and they did not figure out their mistake for decades. The movie sterilizes this story to the point of being a series of narrators setting up rote recreations. Time and again, we’re shown a person in the “present” before we flash back to that same person helping or witnessing something that happened in Bulger’s story. It shows so many of these people that it defuses any tension out of most scenes because we both know that the person survives and that they will be against Bulger by the end of the story. Terrible things happen. Heartbreaking things happen. Chilling things too – but none of it caries any real weight.
The acting is excellent all the way around. Johnny Depp in heavy makeup and eerie light blue contact lenses is terrifying as Bulger but still able to give the character charisma and pathos. Joel Edgerton is also great as Bulger’s contact in the FBI. The rest of the performances are all good including Benedict Cumberbatch as state senator Billy Bulger and Dakota Johnson as Bulger’s wife. (The wife inexplicably disappears after a few scenes and the movie never explains this.)
There’s a great story to be told here and it’s a shame that this cast wasn’t given the material to pull it off as they did a great job with what they were given. In the end, Black Mass comes across as a ho-hum crime drama with no teeth or lasting impact. It’s the cinematic equivalent of reading Bulger’s Wikipedia page.
Cal, Aaron and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion in the car: