With the brutality, the choice of actors and the fact that it’s based on true events, what’s not to love about this film?
The answer is a lot. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
First of all, Johnny Depp hasn’t been in a role like this for a long time. Playing the notorious Boston gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger, Depp delves deep into this role like he hasn’t in what seems like forever. He always seems to be playing caricature characters like The Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka. He’s so much more brilliant than that and this film proves it. His acting is brilliant and he embraces the character of the psychotic Bulger perfectly.
Black Mass -written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk and directed by Scott Cooper – is about James Bulger, the head of the Winter Hill Gang who dealt drugs to nearly every street in the area and ran an extortion racket during the seventies and eighties in South Boston. Whilst doing all of this, he also worked with the FBI as an informant. The film let’s viewers experience the gruesome day-today going of James and how he became the Kingpin of Boston.
One of the best parts about Black Mass was that it didn’t glorify the gory details of what the Winter Hill Gang did, it shows them the way that it should be shown: with blood and screaming. We saw people get beat to death, shot in the head and more specifically, when Bulger strangled Deborah Hussey (Juno Temple) to death and you could hear her gasping for breath and gurgling in the background. It’s dark and gritty and that works really well.
Joel Edgerton (John Connolly) plays the FBI agent who convinces Bulger to become an FBI informant to bring down the Italian Mafia. Connolly grew up with Bulger in South Boston and thinks of them as close friends. Slowly throughout the film, you see Connolly act more and more like the gangsters he’s trying to bring in and see him turn into a corrupt agent as he begins to hide Bulger’s and his own activities from his superiors. Edgerton gets almost as much screen time as Depp which was important because Bulger and Connolly were almost ‘in it’ together.
However, the film gets a bit boring half way through. It loses it’s momentum and it’s not fun. It felt samey as the movie carried on, like some of the scenes had just been repeated over and over again. it felt lumpy and disconnected in places which is a shame because the performances from the actors were outstanding.
Characters such as Whitey Bulger’s brother – William “Billy” Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) – felt like they needed more airtime. Billy Bulger is crucial to the story of his brother’s gangster life because he turned a blind eye to his extra-curricular activities and stood by him as a brother. Cumberbatch’s amazing acting skills were left under-used so it felt like he was there in the background. He needed more screen time.
Black Mass was a bit of a disappointment. Underneath all of the brilliant acting and the gruesome, horrific ways of James Bulger, the film felt too long. It didn’t know whether it wanted to concentrate on bringing down the Italian mafia or the story of Bulger himself; they needed to use the incredible actors that they cast to their advantage and they didn’t. They just left them there in the shadows.