REVIEW: Black Mass

15 09 2015

A movie like “Black Mass” is essentially the cinematic calendar whispering, “Winter is coming.”  It’s a gentle reminder that we are inching ever closer to a glut of prestige dramas filling screens across the country but that the best is still yet to come.  (Of course, if you read this in 2016, the last paragraph probably means nothing.)

Director Scott Cooper’s film works fine as a tiding over of sorts.  Most 2015 films so far that have provided this level of drama were low budget indies, and anything with this amount of violent bloodshed must have been a giant franchise flick.  “Black Mass,” made from a well-structured script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, boasts a thrilling experience packaged in some remarkable production values.  It all just feels so Scorsese lite.

And for the most part, that made for an entirely satisfactory evening at the movies.  I got a film that was perfectly good.  It just never approached greatness.

The marketing of “Black Mass” makes the film look like The Johnny Depp Show, and to a certain extent, it is.  Anyone who slithers around a film with such amphibian-like eyes and a Donald Trump combover just naturally draws attention, even when not playing a notorious gangster like James “Whitey” Bulger.  But, at heart, Bulger is just a boy from South Boston (“Southie”) trying to rule its biggest business – organized crime – by any means necessary.

That involves cutting a strange deal with a former childhood acquaintance, FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).  According to Connolly, Southie is the only place where kids go from playing cops and robbers in the schoolyards to playing it on the streets, and he gets into Bulger’s racket just like some sort of game.  As a part of their deal, Bulger goes on the Bureau’s books as an informant yet essentially gets carte blanche to take out his competition.

Depp might get the more ostensibly interesting character to play, and he certainly plays up just how intimidating and downright creepy a figure Bulger truly was.  But its Edgerton who steals the show, essentially playing a Beantown rendition of Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso from “American Hustle.”  Connolly is the inside man who gets played like a harp by a key asset meant to bring him professional glory.  What motivates him to continue helping Bulger even when the jig seems up proves the heaviest and most complex part of “Black Mass,” and it certainly kept weighing on me after the film ended.  B2halfstars

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5 responses

15 09 2015
Ricardo

Scorcese lite is what I’ve been reading on most of the reviews.

16 09 2015
A Tale of Two Dans

It’s not though. I saw it and it reminded me more of Donnie Brasco than anything the legend Scorsese has ever done. Legend however feels like a Scorsese movie mixed with the British gangster show Peaky Blinders. Check out my review if you want: http://taleoftwodans.com/2015/09/15/tiff-15-legend/

16 09 2015
Jules

Tremendous lede sentence. Color me jealous. Being a gangster movie glutton, I am still looking forward to this one.

16 09 2015
A Tale of Two Dans

I really enjoyed Black Mass. I thought it was definitely a return to form but I agree that Joel Edgerton was the star. I’ve loved him in everything he’s done this year and The Gift was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Keep an eye out for him.

19 09 2015
Marshall

Oh, I’ve had my eye on Joel Edgerton for a while, don’t worry.

I haven’t seen “Donnie Brasco,” so I couldn’t use that as a reference point. It’s not *super* Scorsese-esque, and I don’t necessarily think that any movie about gangsters in the ’70s deserves to be compared to his work. When I used the term Scorsese lite, I meant to say that my enjoyment of the film was tempered by the fact that I felt like I had seen it done before – and done better.

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