Skip to main content

Review: Black Mass



Watching Jack Nicholson in The Departed it would be easy to think "Wow, this guy can't be real" but that would be incorrect. Frank Costello was based in part on James "Whitey" Bulger, maybe the most notorious gangster in U.S. history. What viewers will also learn is the FBI and Bulger worked together for years before he was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) and Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) grew up together in South Boston, but years later Connolly, now a FBI Agent, makes a deal with the devil. More accurately, he tries to place a rabid dog on a leash.

Reporting to the FBI is a hard sell for Connolly because Bulger takes personal offense to playing informant. Bulger killed men for giving up much less, but Connolly manages to convince the crime boss a partnership would be mutually beneficial. Both men see this as an opportunity to rid Boston of the Italian mafia, but only one of them is honest about how this will all play out. Being an informant means giving up intel on occasion, yet it comes with no strings. Connolly--and by proxy the FBI--look the other way while Bulger deals and murders his way into mythic status. Meanwhile, Special Agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) can’t explain why crime is still flourishing in Boston.

Black Mass spent several years in production while Depp and Edgerton both left the project, and now it has the unfair responsibility of being the movie that brings Depp back to relevance. Luckily the film shoulders that weight with ease. Yes, Depp is wearing another wig, but this isn't like his other Disney work. Depp layers Bulger with nuance, playing a man who would violently murder members of his organization for being rats when he himself reported to the FBI. Those contradictions would trip up a lot of actors, but Depp handles himself magnificently.

It would be easy for Depp to crank out every scene on 11, but there is a reserve present that couldn't be said for Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Take a dinner scene where Bulger needles a FBI agent for the secret family recipe. What seems like an innocuous slip on the part of the agent turns unbearably tense as Bulger questions just how easy he gives up information. Then Bulger punctuates the exchange with a chilling laugh. Too often films depicting criminals glorify the lifestyle, but if Black Mass is a testament to anything, it's what a sociopath Whitey Bulger was. That the FBI would team up with a maniac of that caliber to shut down the Mafia is an indictment not only of law enforcement, but the misguided native pride of Boston. A monster was unleashed on society only because Connolly was more comfortable with a crime syndicate run by white men.

The film presents a great deal of information, but everything is presented in a brisk fashion and aided by a stellar cast. Those who don't know anything about Whitey Bulger will be fine. Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) wisely surrounds Depp with the highly talented Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, W. Earl Brown and Kevin Bacon. As great as that cast is, sometimes Cooper focuses too much on his ensemble, leaving audiences wondering when Depp strikes next. A more present p.o.v. would definitely cement Black Mass as one of the defining crime films of the genre, but as it stands the film is a handsomely directed picture featuring a career resurgence for Johnny Depp.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Herman Melville and Office Space

Just from gleaning the surface of Office Space one would assume that there isn't anything simmering below the surface except for a raunchy work-comedy, but they would be wrong.
After the harsh critical reception of his greatest work Moby Dick Melville wrote a collection of short stories called Bartleby and Benito Cereno perhaps the greatest slam at the time against industrial America. Bartleby is the story of a Wall Street copyist who has his three employees proof-read and copy law forms. Shortly into the story Bartleby starts responding to work commands with, "I would prefer not to." Frustrated by his employee's subordination the Narrator tries to have him fired but Bartleby refuses to leave the office. The Narrator comes back the following morning to find Bartleby living inside his office. Bartleby becomes increasingly less apt to perform basic functions as eating after he is jailed for trespassing and dies in a jail cell. What at once starts out as a comedy has …

Paprika vs. Inception

Months before Inception hit the theaters forums were alive with rumors that Christopher Nolan either accidentally or intentionally stole some details from another film, the Japanese anime Paprika. The biggest point of comparison for some bloggers and forum runners was the fact that both of the films featured a device that allowed a person, or people, to travel into another’s dreams and delve into their subconscious.
Minor points of comparison include scenes in Paprika where the character Paprika breaks through a mirrored wall by holding her hand to it, as well as a scene where a police detective falls his way down a hallway. Claims have been made that Inception abounds with imagery similar to or exactly like the anime movie, but with the recent release of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray, and with Paprika available for several years now, an examination of the two plots can be made more fully.
Let us begin with the primary claim—Inception stole the idea of a dream machine from Paprika. It …

Blumhouse's Truth or Dare Giveaway

We’re not playing the game, it’s playing us! A harmless game of "Truth or Dare" among friends turns deadly when someone--or something--begins to punish those who tell a lie--or refuse the dare. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, opening in theaters Friday the 13th! To celebrate the release of this terrifying new film we have a Truth or Dare giveaway for readers. Play the app below with a friend and take the Truth or Dare challenge to see who survives. To enter, tag a friend you'd bring along to the film to @wordsbycbiggs on Twitter and use the #TruthOrDareMovie hashtag. One lucky winner will receive a prize pack, which includes: 1 - Limited Edition Truth or Dare Card Game: This limited edition Truth or Dare Game is only available via this promotion and has a run of 200 pieces worldwide. It has a card deck featuring dares and the creepy crawly items you need to satisfy the dares in the deck. Test your resolve… The truth will set you free! 1 - Truth or Dare Official Promo Tank - O…