“Black Mass” | Movie Review

Grade (B+)

Johnny Depp returns to his past excellence in this film that is filled with unsavory characters depicting the life of an elusive gangster. 


The story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a crime-boss who was the brother of a state senator and childhood friend of an agent in the FBI who Bulger worked with as his informant to bring down the Italian Mafia that was moving in on his turf while the agent turned a blind eye to his own criminal activity.

My Take

There is no denying Johnny Depp loves his make-up and more specifically characters based in fantasy. Despite the mixed reviews he often gets, it was films such as those, based in the world of childhood fantasies that have made him a global star. Despite the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and other movies of a similar theme, I feel his best genre has always been in that of the crime-drama.

Films like; “Donnie Brasco”, “Blow” and “Public Enemies” are my favorite films of his and after watching “Black Mass” it was great to see he hasn’t lost his touch in the genre. He brought the make-up wagon for this film as well, but it was for the good as his oddly intimidating visual appearance was attention grabbing in its own right much like Tom Cruise in “Collateral”. Depp poured himself in to the role and there was not a single instance where I felt like I was watching Johnny Depp. He literally transformed himself into Whitey Bulger and it was not simply visually, but in personality and energy as well.

Depp brought the persona of Bulger to life on the screen and conveyed the rage of a violent crime-boss who clearly lived by a code of ethics. He portrayed a man that was as deadly as one could be, while still holding a small compassionate side and deep respect for those he felt had earned it. I was fascinated by the intensity Depp was able to deliver in virtually every scene he was in and it made me wish he would take on more roles like these. There were many conversations that built great tension and I enjoyed the way Depp was able to make the character appear as if he was never not in full control of a situation or always a mental step ahead.

The rest of the cast was also excellent – Edgerton, Cumberbatch and Bacon all delivered strong performances, although Bacon’s screen-time was lessened. The performance of Rory Cochrane was very intriguing to me. I can still remember him from the early years of “CSI: Las Vegas” and he clearly still has his knack for bringing a character that reads deeper than the surface content, to any given film. His character continually engages in criminal activity yet you can feel he does not respect the way Bulger goes about things at times. To me this served as a great reflection to the fact even those who worked for him knew he was crazy and feared him, something a handful of other characters were also able to convey in the film.

This was not a film for those who want a character to root for. Those in the script that do have really any strict ethics are relative side characters and not given enough time to connect with. This biopic just so happened to depict a story that was filled with many unlikable characters, and in the end conveys how in the criminal world and realm of corrupt law enforcement, there is no real bonds.At any given time anyone can turn on the other to save themselves other than rare situations.

This script followed criminals dealing with criminals and for that aspect, it was an enjoyable result in my opinion. The pace of the film was slow but steady, yet saves itself by keeping the story evolving at all times. The script seemed to bring some strong detail to the true events and manged to stay informative to the facts without getting lost in the tendency for Hollywood over-gloss. The violence was sporadic but well shot, and Depp again was awesome when he was wielding a gun in broad daylight without hesitation.

There are a couple factors a biopic must do in my opinion to be successfully entertaining – deliver a thorough portrayal of the focal character, create a historically accurate portrayal of the factual events, and finally it must do its best to tell a complete story to recreate the source material. In my opinion this one nailed the first two and came close on the second. I would have liked to have had a little exposition on who Whitey Bulger was, rather than the story simply jumping in to his middle-age, post prison life. This could have been done in a variety of ways without the cost of added run-time just to detail a little more about who this man was.

In the end it wasn’t a huge hindrance given his simple appearance and delivery alone tell you all you need to know about the danger this man was capable of. Given the fact the film clearly relied on this element, it would be hard to say they were not successful in portraying the violence and rage of this man. Whitey Bulger was street smart and definitely highly intelligent, you must be for having evaded the police and being on the FBI Most Wanted list for over a decade without being caught. This was something that I enjoyed seeing subtly conveyed throughout this film, that he was a very smart man despite his ominous presence leading you to think he was a simple street thug.

Overall I really enjoyed “Black Mass” and felt it was able to tell its story with some moments of tension and suspense to account for the rather flat pace. It also was successful in being informative without simply throwing information at you. If you love a film that delivers a solid antagonist or a great character performance, then this one will be for you. Johnny Depp was fantastic and is worth the time alone in this very enjoyable, but far from uplifting crime-drama.

– Starring –

Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, Julianne Nicholson

– Directed By –

Scott Cooper

Time: 122 min

MPAA Rating: R (For brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)