Black Mass has been a long time coming. First teased at the beginning of 2015, the film has had small leaks now and then of certain actors and characters until it was released this week, amid a buzz of differing views and reviews. Does it live up to early rumours that it’s an Awards contender?
Black Mass stars Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott and Kevin Bacon and is directed by Scott Cooper. The film follows gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) as he turns informant to FBI Agent John Connolly (Edgerton) in an attempt to bring down the Italian mafia.
First off, Johnny Depp’s performance is amazing. After several weak, boring and sometimes offensive roles, it’s great to see him back in a role that shows off his acting ability. Deep is covered in makeup and has contact lenses to turn his eyes a sickly grey colour, it all adding up to make him look like dark and menacing leech on society. Throughout the film we see a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when faced with “rats” and snitches, leading to some truly blood-soaked beatings and a great deviation from his Disney characters.
Unfortunately, while everyone else does a good job with their respective roles, they all have these ridiculous Boston accents, destroying any sense whenever they speak that this was meant to be a serious drama. Adam Scott and Dakota Johnson are woefully underused, and halfway through the film stops being about Bulger and instead turns to his FBI counterpart Connelly, played by Joel Edgerton, who compared to Depp is nowhere near as interesting a character or as charismatic. Whenever the film kept focussing on his life, the story fell apart for me since I really wasn’t bothered what happened to him. I know the film was trying to set up a “Fallen Man” archetype with Connelly, but none of it ever worked.
Reading several reviews, many people have been quick to compare it to Goodfellas. I can see the resemblance, both stories are long sagas about growing up to be a criminal and the friendships and enemies are made during those times. Black Mass also tries to have several of its own “How am I Funny?” scenes with Depp coming out with a smart quip or philosophical quote, with many of them being my favourite scenes of the movie. These smaller scenes are the best parts of Black Mass, with conversations around breakfast and dinner tables, over drinks in bars and in cars full of gangsters, making the film come to life for a few brief minutes before it slams back down into mediocrity with a long bout of police procedural work.
Subplots come in and out of the film all the time, sometimes smothering the main plot with several incidental meetings and characters. All of these range from dull to almost interesting, but given the astonishing real-life story at the heart of Black Mass, the film never really focuses on it. Instead, the film just watches from the sidelines and in doing so gets tangled up amongst all the excess baggage. When good stories are wasted it make the film even more annoying, knowing that there should and could be a really good crime story at the heart of it.
In summary, Black Mass feels very much like a film that tries to emulate several other gangster/crime films (Goodfellas obviously, but I can also see hints of several other Scorsese films, 2015’s Legend as well as 2013’s American Hustle) but doesn’t bring enough emotional depth or character depth to make it anything more than just a well-made film.
Score: 6/10 Only watch it for some of Depp’s career-best work.