director: Scott Cooper
writers: Mark Mallouk & Jez Butterworth
starring: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson and Joel Edgerton
genre: Crime | Gangster
released: 17 September 2015 (Australia), 18 September 2015 (USA), 15 October 2015 (Germany & Greece)
based on the book: 'Black Mass' by Dick Lehr & Gerard O'Neill
What seemed to be one of last years award front runners, ended up being completely forgotten over more message oriented productions. Unfortunate, as their wasn't much wrong with 'Black Mass', other than it missing larger parts to its more complicated story and Depp's great performance being slightly overshadowed by his intense fake eyes and significant makeup job.
In 1970's Boston, Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) was the cruelest and most dangerous gangster in town. The way he managed to stay power and be ahead of the competition for so long was to work with the Feds and take advantage of their arrangement to satisfy his own criminal needs. This was done by taking advantage of the good intentions of his old childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Who only wanted to repay a debt and help out, but did much more in the process.
Gangster films are now a forgotten genre were everyone just remembers the glory days and each subsequent production seems like a ripoff or a poor imitation of what was. Which is not true as it all comes down to if you have a good story to tell and talented individuals involved. Then most likely than not something good will come out of it like with 'Black Mass' and another 2015 production in 'Legend'.
The story of Whitey Bulger is an interesting one with a known criminal taking advantage of the Feds in unforeseen ways and a story ripe for a film adaptation. Elements from his story were taken and used before in the film 'The Departed' but never were they the main focus of a whole film. Same with the fact that Bulger is an incredibly violent individual and even a little bit more despicable than other Mobsters we have been used to in the past. With moments in the film where Bulger goes to lengths of intimidation and cruelty that are uncomfortable to watch.
This is helped by the instinctive acting ability of Johnny Depp. Something that he always had but has lost due to the choice of picking random projects that emphasized more on his costume, the makeup he would wear and the atmosphere of the film. Rather than him focusing on his character and the performance that was needed to be given. Unfortunately, as great as his performance is here, it is still with makeup and slight eye alterations. It doesn't ruin the experience or negate Depp's performance, but it is noticeable and distracting at times. Which could be that one thing that didn't get him an Oscar nod that year.
Another problem with the film is that it doesn't tell the whole story of Whitey Bulger. How did Bulger get to the top of the food chain in the Irish Mafia? How did the community view him more in general? What was the beef between the Italians and Irish? More scenes that gave a little bit more backstory would have gone a long way. Also the level of possible corruption coming from Bulger's brother who also happened to be a politician is noticeably missing. Generally, Bulger's story had a lot of meat to it, but for one reason or another got chopped away in the adaptation process.
Additionally, even though Johnny Depp will get all the attention for his gruesome performance, Joel Edgerton deserves an equal amount of praise for his impeccable acting as the prideful Irish F.B.I. agent John Connolly. A man that was simply returning a favor to his childhood friend and never thinking of how vile a criminal he truly may be. Little by little looking the other way and becoming corrupt himself. Which is something the film did very well by showing a good amount of the FBI side of it and how Connolly went to the dark side and took people with him along the ride. What was missing as mentioned previously was the mafia side of it. And even though they are a couple of moments where the mafia goons show their contempt for Whitey at a couple of occasions. This is only done so they can lay the ground work for the prosecution case against him later in the film, not for subplot intentions or character growth.
This is a wonderful gangster film showcasing another dark gem of the mafia world and how he manipulated the federal government of the United States to advance in his criminal circles. Nonetheless, the world in the film that Whitey Bulger lived in did lack some depth as we never understood the vastness of his criminal enterprise and never did we get to know really his associates nor his enemies. More than anything else, what this film was missing was more of what it was already dishing out.