Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll, Adam Scott
Rated: R (brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)
The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
By Cole Schneider
“Black Mass” deserves a special Oscar for achieving status as 2015’s most mediocre film. The biopic follows infamous gangster Whitey Ford as he utilizes an alliance with the FBI to become Boston’s leading crime lord. The film gets passing grades in traditional critical categories. But there’s more to a good movie than simply the sum of its technical parts; good movies are creative and purposeful.
If you were to strip Scorsese’s gangster flicks like “Goodfellas” and “Casino” of their energy, humor, and style you might be left with “Black Mass”. There are shots (especially a particular tracking shot) and lines (especially Joe Pesci’s famous “You breaking my balls?” line) that are intended as winks and nods but feel emblematic of a larger theft. The score even feels like a less grand version of Nino Rota’s wonderful string compositions in “The Godfather”. Johnny Depp seems like he’s modeled his lead performance after any of many Edward G. Robinson’s frontman gangsters from the 1920s and 30s (“Little Caesar” or “Larceny Inc.” for example).
All of this is fine, but the film doesn’t add anything to the existing crime film cannon. If it were particularly entertaining or offered some fresh perspective then any technical merit might stand out. Instead we have a mostly dry depiction of Ford as both a scary, evil gangster and a beloved human, with neither ringing as true as they should. With its central character muted and pretension dripping from every frame. “Black Mass” is an empty redundancy masquerading as a good film.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
Black Mass serves as a nice redemption for the floundering career of Johnny Depp, who has leaned more on quirky voices and loud makeup than his actual skills in recent years. His portrayal of mob boss Whitey Bulger is a powerhouse performance and easily his best since he first introduced the world to Jack Sparrow. It’s too bad the movie as a whole doesn’t fair quite as well. Despite a great cast and some interestingly insane source material, somehow a movie about one of America’s most infamous criminals
feels more like small claims court.
Director Cooper focuses his narrative on Bulger’s less-than-legal partnership with the FBI. It’s a fascinatingly close-knit community we witness (agents, felons, politicians, and families alike) in which loyalty and corruption go hand-in-hand. It’s a grimy yet quiet 70’s-feel gangster film that engages its audience nearly as much as it reminds them of better films. Therein lies its big problem: What is BlackMass offering that hasn’t already been perfected in other gangster films? Unfortunately, instead of a true movie-making vision, it’s like a guy watched every crime drama from the last 40 years and just spit
out a less-interesting copycat.
Not that a counterfeit of something great can’t still have its positives: the score is beautiful and the performances from the top-notch cast around Depp are nearly as superb as his, all of whom nail the oft-parodied Bostonian accent with aplomb. But with too many side plots to juggle, not enough cohesion to the storytelling, and an unfortunate lack of auteur vision, Black Mass just can’t stand against the great American crime films of yore (Chinatown, Godfather, Goodfellas).
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars