The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
Black Mass (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Directed by Scott Cooper
Written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk Based on Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
Black Mass is a bad movie. The acting is top-notch. The story based on the true exploits of mobster Whitey Bulger, is beyond interesting, but it is told through various interviews with his associates. This narrative is awkward and confusing. It took me out of the story. And it also served to let me know who survives, taking away most of the drama. Johnny Depp’s performance is amazing but he needed a better movie. Black Mass is disjointed and unfocused. I know we’ve had a lot of mob movies at this point in film history but there’s no need to change the format. Just tell the damn story.
The main selling point of the movie is Johnny Depp’s performance, and it is pretty great. He physically disappears into the role. But we don’t get much of the character’s inner life. The movie primarily focuses on his years as a FBI informant. It begins years after he has been released from Alcatraz and years after the LSD prison trials that twisted his mind. So Black Mass is less the tale of Whitey Bulger and more the story of FBI agent John Connolly who ran Bulger as an informant but was actually more Bulger’s informant in the FBI than the other way around.
Benedict Cumberbatch does a Southie accent and it too is disturbing, as most of his American accents are. I don’t know about hearing anything but a British accent coming from his amazing pipes. It’s just weird. Like a dog standing on its hind legs for too long. It was just weird. But there are lots of great performances in the movie, up and down the cast. And it’s a well-written story for the most part. It just doesn’t go deep into Whitey Bulger’s character or his past and is preoccupied more with acts of brutal violence than developing any of the other characters.
Black Mass plays like an FBI report on the man’s exploits. Like the film-makers were more concerned with telling only the things that were provable. Or corroborated. I would have preferred the movie took some license and took a chance and fictionalized the story a bit. I wanted more than just the stuff in the reports. At the end they do that thing where they put on-screen what happened to the narrators and the movie feels that way. Just the facts.
The only character that is even kind of developed is the FBI agent John Connolly who approaches Whitey with the opportunity to let the FBI help him rise to power. We see him evolve a little. His wife points this out to us when it isn’t clear in one of the more awful scene. Where they tell the audience how the character has changed. “You’re dressing better and you have a gold watch and a gold ring and a hair cut and you’re walking different and…” These are things you need to show us not tell us.
Black Mass fails in so many ways and the most egregious is how it wastes a great acting display by a guy who has never been known for his acting chops. Johnny Depp deserved a better movie. Black Mass is not good.