FILM REVIEW | BLACK MASS
Written By Brett Hutton
I like a good crime story, a tale of desperation and chaos usually populated with people who don’t want to be criminals, but have no choice in the situation. But that doesn’t mean I can’t become attached to criminal characters that do choose the life. Really, it’s about how a character is written and portrayed. And that was my biggest issue with Black Mass.
Black Mass is a well-made, well documented biopic on Whitey Bulger, the Irish mobster and leader of the Winter Hill Gang, who used his connection in the FBI as an informant to rat out other mobs and rule over Boston in the 70s. Johnny Depp stars as Bulger, along with Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton and Kevin Bacon.
On the surface level, the film is very well shot and edited, the music is great, and all the actors hone fantastic performances. Black Mass truly marks a return to form for Depp, especially after his last few lousy, phoned-in performances of recent memory. But although the film shines visually, aesthetically and performance-wise, it will leave you feeling empty – through the characters themselves, the guiding vessels of the story.
Bulger is not a sympathetic character by any means. He’s cold, vindictive, disturbing, violent and aggressive with little to no true sense of humanity. The film tries to make him seem otherwise with scenes with his family, as well as the grieving of his dead mother, but it is very unconvincing. Aside from Bulger, all the other characters are reprehensible. In a dark, foreboding story soaked in blood and grit, it’s still possible to fall in love with the protagonist, even if they are an anti-hero. Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange is a perfect example of this. Black Mass’s problem is simply that there are no characters for the audience to become emotionally-invested in.
The film also suffers from a pacing issue. It’s just too slow for what little actually happens, and it feels too confident with what little material it does provide to justify its snail-pace. For all its bravado in its set up, it simply proves too big for its britches and offers little to no real pay-off.
Black Mass is a brilliantly put-together film that falls short of its potential. Had the screenwriters decided to indulge a little more into the storytelling side of things and loosened the reigns of the nothing-but-the-facts method as well as made Bulger a more charismatic and emotionally-investing character, I probably would’ve liked it. But this was the very first time I walked out of the cinema after the credits rolled, feeling absolutely numb.