Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (Three and half stars)
Star Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaar, Dakota Johnson
Director: Scott Cooper
What’s Good: Impressive performances, tight screenplay and a gripping direction, make up Black Mass for a great watch. Johnny Depp’s ‘Witey Bulger’ stares in your faces with his blue eyes and crooked teeth with such might that you can hardly move from your seat. This anti- The Departed has quite a lot to offer if you are watching carefully.
What’s Bad: Over the years, we have seen several mafia films such as Goodfellas, Scarface and so we are too accustomed to the way they are handled. Even though Black Mass is a biopic, there are certain junctures where the film gets highly predictable. A deeper insight into Bulger’s personal side could have made this film perfect.
Loo Break: It can certainly wait!
Watch or Not?: Black Mass is a great watch for audiences having the taste buds for a good old mafia film. Interestingly, the film does not play with your senses visually but mentally. Watching a Whitey Bulger’s cold and inhuman side clubbed with his Robin Hood-esque side is quite a heavy dose. Black Mass may appeal to a certain section of audiences. Those looking to spend a merrier weekend could opt for a lighter watch than this film.
Based on the book by the same name, Black Mass, the film equally packs a punch as the book which was published after extensive research by Boston Globe reporters. The film mainly chronicles around the deal that FBI agent John Conolly (Joel Edgerton) signs with Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp). Bulger agrees to become an informant to the FBI to help them clean out the Italian mafia from Boston. In the meanwhile, the FBI turns a blind-eye to his vicious circle of illegal businesses and murders. Kicking off in 1975, the film takes us to the era of Whitey Bulger’s reign in South Boston.
A Southie kid himself, Conolly who is now an FBI agent is often seen in a conflict as the storyline progresses. While we learn that as a kid, Conolly was saved by Whitey, it seems over the years too, Conolly finds himself loyal to the goon with whom he has grown-up, thus covering up for his dark acts on the other side of the law.
The third wheel to this story is Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is the well-sorted brother of Bulger. He is a senator of the state, yet extremely loyal to his brother whose criminal background is no mystery to him. Billy’s side is mostly presented as the work and family do not mix types and hence for him blood ties are thicker anything. Eventually we see Billy being sacked from his position for staying in touch with his absconding brother Bulger.
What entails ahead is several turning points in Bulger’s life from losing his son to losing his mother and eventually his lone run after all his henchmen are caught by the FBI.
Black Mass Review: Script Analysis
Being a biopic on Bulger, there is enough fodder in this film to make it an engaging watch. The writers nail it down with the dialogues that may give the Indian censor board an attack with the constant usage of the F-word. What truly works for this film is the way the narrative has been split in timelines to walk us through the journey of Bulger’s best and worst times. 1981 and 1985 form the main acts in the film when Bulger’s cards start to fall one by one.
One of the best damn scene in the film has is hands down when Cnolly hosts a dinner at his place and Bulger quite smartly asks John Morris (David Harbour) who is Conolly’s supervisor about his ‘secret’ family recipe. This goes on to become an intense discussion, at the end of which Bulger gives out an insidious laugh which almost chokes Morris for a second.
Director Scott Cooper turns out successful in presenting Bulger’s uncertain nature at various points in the film. We see more of his human side when he is seen interacting with his kid and giving advise such as ‘You always punch someone when no one is watching’. Of course, his emotional breakdown when he loses his child and also the playful nature he has around his mother. There are multiple dimensions to his personality and Scott explores them well. Other than Bulger’s character, the second focus is on Conolly and that too turns out impressive with Joel Edgerton’s performance.
What the film truly misses out on his Billy. That is one character that we could have wanted to explore more. Bulger and Billy moments are minimal in the film and that is where the story seems a little fickle.
Black Mass Review: Star Performance
Johnny Depp may have amused you at his best with the flamboyance of Captain Jack Sparrow but he completely steps into Bulger’s character with full gusto. He struts in a splendid manner wearing the leather jacket. Depp has picked up the Southie accent too extremely well. The best part is that, Depp makes sure that his look with the receding hair line, dead tooth and his cold stare of the blue eyes make you uncomfortable in your seat.
Joel Edgerton as John Conolly almost upstages Depp with his performance. As the FBI agent who strikes a deal with Bulger and soon becomes the star agent for cleaning out the Italian mafia, Edgerton plays his complex character with much ease. What truly makes his performance stand-out is the arrogance that it develops over the course of the story and how Edgerton’s body language speaks more about it than his dialogues. It seems he will be giving Depp a steep competition at the Oscars since both may get a nomination for their work.
Dakota Johnson has a cameo in the film and she gives us little to talk about it. Julianne Nicholson as Conolly’s wife on the other hand makes quite an impact with her smaller role.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy seems like a complete waste in the film as the writers do not give his character much flesh. Given his role, Cumberbatch is comfortable and charming.
Corey Stoll, and David Harbour give a good performance as the supporting cast in the film.
Black Mass Review: Music, Direction
Scott Cooper does a fine job with Black Mass as nor does he overdo the drama, nor does he underplay his characters. There is enough color in this film and that is exactly what it needs to stand-out. The film reeks of the 60s and 70s and it is more like being in that era than just watching it. Scott bring on board costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone who is a winner thanks to her beyond perfection representation of each of the characters including Bulger’s in detail. What is interesting is that, Cooper keeps the film pretty much straightforward and wraps it up within two hours.
The visuals are crafted skillfully as each murder and leaves a certain impact on you. Cinematography too works perfectly as the wide lens make a great impression for storytelling. Blending with the wintry set-up of the story, the background score too is maintained well by composer Junkie XL but it could have been much better. Overall Scott, gives us a gripping film minus melodrama.
Black Mass Review: The Last Word
After a long time, you see Johnny Depp giving a hard-hitting performance as this. To give him company is Joel Edgeton’s brilliant act. Laced with powerful performances and an engaging storyline, Black Mass is worth a watch for all those who enjoy mafia dramas. I am going with a 3.5/5 for the film.
Black Mass Trailer
Black Mass releases on 18th September, 2015.
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