Once the powerful teaser trailer for “Black Mass” made its way online, I was filled with so much anticipation for September to roll around. My main reason for this excitement being the “return” of Johnny Depp.
I put “return” in parenthesis because Depp never left us per se, but it felt as if he was ditching Tim Burton and his goofy makeup to play a serious role again.
It only took him two minutes to grab my attention and chill me to the core.
Did the film live up to the hype that the trailer was selling?
Chances are that if you lived in South Boston in the late 70s, James “Whitey” Bulger [Johnny Depp] was a common household name.
He ran the streets as the head of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang with a chilling demeanor.
As another group [Angiulo Brothers] looms on the horizon, FBI agent John Connolly [Joel Edgerton] takes this opportunity to get close with Whitey, and maybe gain his trust.
Once an agreement is made, Whitey becomes a secret informant for the bureau in exchange
for getting the Angiulos out of his territory.
Unfortunately for the rest of South Boston, Whitey takes this opportunity to commit dirty deeds all over town, all while being protected by the FBI.
The main selling point of the trailers was the transformation of Johnny Depp.
Yes, he’s still wearing the heavy makeup, but he’s not making a fool out of himself.
With the slicked back hair and soul-sucking eyes, Depp disappears and becomes Whitey almost immediately.
There are times when we ask ourselves how people can commit such heinous atrocities without even blinking an eye. “Black Mass” chillingly shows Bulger at his absolute worst and, as we’re watching, we ask that very question.
Bulger is, quite simply, a monster, a vampire that lurks in the shadows as a foreboding menace.
It’s baffling to think that such a malicious figure once walked the streets.
Later in the film, there’s a sequence involving Whitey at a dinner party with a few close colleagues.
He asks one of his men about a secret family recipe that was used on his steak.
Where this scene goes from there shows that the smallest little thing, like a recipe, activates a switch in Whitey’s head that turns him from humorous to intimidating.
That said, while I’m okay with portraying him as a cold-blooded monster, I could have used more of a psychological analysis on why he does what he does.
Depp is great in the role, but there was more to his character that could have been explored.
To dive deep into the psyche of a power-hungry and deranged individual could have easily placed Whitey Bulger as one of the best screen gangsters to date.
This entire film could have joined the ranks of gangster nirvana such as titles like “Goodfellas” or “The Departed.”
How does the supporting cast alone [Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane and Dakota Johnson] not scream greatness?
“Black Mass” is about Whitey Bulger and his relationship with John Connolly, a despicable person who thinks he’s doing the right thing, brilliantly played by Joel Edgerton.
Other than those two, everybody else is merely a means to an end. Certain characters will enter the movie, leave, then come back a half hour later to suddenly be relevant again.
None of the supporting performances are bad, but they don’t have much time to blossom.
When a film is marketed to be about the most notorious gangster in US history, you would expect a few shocks and surprises.
Aside from some truly unnerving scenes with Depp, it plays out as your average, procedural gangster flick.
The cinematography beautifully paints a dark picture of a time where the devil walked the earth.
The world is looked upon as this gray slate that hasn’t been wiped clean, but rather taken over by corruption.
Yet, the cinematography can’t mask the standard gangster storytelling device.
“Black Mass” can be recommended for the performances, and if that’s the reason why you’re going, you won’t leave disappointed.
Let’s all hope that Johnny Depp takes the hint and continues to take on more dramatic roles such as this.
You may leave feeling that something was missing, yet you won’t forget the true nature of James “Whitey” Bulger and his illustrious reign over Southern Boston.
Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at email@example.com