A massive mistake for Depp? Another black mark to put against his flailing filmography? There’s only one way to find out.
The true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), the brother of a state senator (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
A mixed bag, to say the least. A stellar cast do their best to reprieve a meandering mob flick.
Johnny Depp was superb. It’s okay looking the part. BUT you need to bring a performance to back it. One that he brings by the bucket load. As soon as he made his introduction with those icy cold blue eyes, I was sold. BUT for all the promise, I expected so much more. For those who are familiar with Whitey’s story, you may find that this latest re-telling brings nothing new to the mix.
The opening really didn’t things going as we were introduced to all of Whitey’s highly unmemorable henchmen as they provided testimony against one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Other than wearing a really bad wig, I questioned the relevance of Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights). I had to laugh at the fact his testimony, in terms of narration, detailed events where his character was never present.
Depp certainly carried the piece. BUT considering he was supposed to be the main character, he wasn’t in it as much as you think. I have to say that Black Mass was a very patchy affair. We had a slow but interesting build up as we watched the small time crook expand in his neighbourhood. BUT after a dull and chunky bit of exposition with the FBI, the film suddenly flash forward. Skimming over crucial moments of Whitey’s ever-growing empire.
I was disappointed that we didn’t even get to see the low level gangster make that transition. He was a small blip on the FBI’s radar in one frame than a massive target in the next one. The passing comments from the FBI agents about his drug business and confrontations with the Mafia sounded great. BUT why couldn’t we see that? Juxtaposing sinister shots of Depp with pictures of bodies wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t completely bored. He bumped off a few people here. Delivered a creepy speech there. There was one brilliant scene in which Whitey educated his fellow handlers on the value of keeping secrets. Spine tingling. BUT where was that tension throughout the rest of the film?
I didn’t mind that they tried to bring a little humanity to Whitey’s character. His care for family and respect among the community may have been intense (A little bonkers, even) BUT you could almost feel a little empathy for the nutcase.
BUT what infuriated me was how this huge ensemble wasn’t used to their full potential. Adam Scott (Krampus) might as well have been an uncredited extra. Kevin Bacon’s character only really got going in the closing minutes. Peter Sarsgaard didn’t do a bad job as the volatile Brian Halloran BUT was shipped out too quickly.
Joel Edgerton (The Gift) was brilliant as FBI agent (and neighbourhood chum) John Connolly. It was interesting to see his transformation from a timid pencil pusher to a cocksure untouchable with shades and swagger in tow. His ruthless egotism was something else.
The lovely (if slightly stick thin) Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) was wasted in her role as Whitey’s wife. Anyone could have played her. She only really delivered in one scene (The one she featured in). Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County) managed to make a slightly more memorable turn BUT was still underused as Connolly’s spouse.
I couldn’t compare Black Mass to any of the other gangster flicks because it tragically fell short of them. I really wanted to like this. There were some crazy statistics and moments that did surprise me about the gangster. The deals with the FBI were outrageous. BUT that was it. A movie of moments.
A great cast do their best BUT the wafer thin story was something I expected to see in a True Crime biopic NOT a theatrical release.