TL;DR – “This is … This is … This is…. ‘What?’ .. This is borrrrring” Scott Pilgrim
Score – 2 out of 5 stars
Black Mass is a ‘true’ story about how the FBI ended up being entangled with an Irish-American mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger from Boston in an attempt to take down the local Italian Mafia, leading to the FBI ‘unexpectedly’ backing Whitey into becoming the crime lord of Boston. So during Black Mass, we get to see the rise and fall of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his Winter-Hill Gang, and that’s not a spoiler because they tell you that in the first couple of minutes of the film. Before we go on I cannot tell you how true the ‘based on True Events’ tag is, I mean I could research it, but the film honestly does not feel like it is worth the effort.
There are a lot of problems with this film, but the most problematic is that it is just boring. Johnny Depp (James ‘Whitey’ Bulger) can be an amazing actor when he is stopped from going too absurd, but in this film, he is just so bland, which is a problem because when he is finally able to emote, it just comes off as creepy. One of Benedict Cumberbatch (William ‘Billy’ Bulger) best assists is his voice and physical presence, none of which are on show here, bar one scene at the very end, I mean you have to work really hard to make Mr Cumberbatch feel bland. Joel Edgerton (John Connolly) is just whiny and petulant brat throughout the whole film, which I am sure was the direction he was given but he is in the film so much that it is just becomes grating every time he appears on the screen. In fact just about all of the supporting cast could have been blow up dolls for all the good they were, I mean you have Adam Scott (Robert Fitzpatrick ) here and you do nothing with him. Probably the two exceptions are Kevin Bacon (Charles McGuire) and Corey Stoll (Fred Wyshak), Mr Bacon brings a sense of reality to the proceedings and Mr Stoll actually reacts like a normal person would react, which is such a refreshing change, but then he is only in at the end of the film.
Another factor that adds to the boredom is the structure and pacing of the film. Firstly, the way the film is presented is of the criminals testifying to an FBI agent in the 1990s (I think) about what they did in the 60s to 80s, so they can get a plea deal. On the one hand, this allows you to jump times quickly, but on the other, it sucks all of the tension out of the film because from the start you know who is going to live and who is going to die. Yes I know these are real people and that is already fixed, but most people going to see the film probably don’t already know that. Also, the Film opens with how Kevin Weeks, as played by Jesse Plemons, joined the Winter-Hill Gang, giving the impression that he is going to be a big part of the film, and then he just spends the rest of the film just like being there, not really doing anything. The pacing of the film is also really slow, this is always a problem when you adapt real life events into a movie because real life rarely follows the rules of thematic storytelling. So, in the end, you have a lot of what feels like superfluous rubbish, so when you finally get to something of interest, your interest was gone a long time ago.
Another thing was the make-up and/or CGI they used to make Johnny Depp look more like James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. While it was not really an issue in the wide shots whenever they zoomed in close on his face it immediately got Uncanny Valley, and it was really off-putting. Also, Hollywood really does not like Boston, I don’t know what Boston did, did they forget to send Hollywood an invite to their St. Patrick’s Day Parade or something, because I don’t think I have ever seen a non-crime movie set in the city.
In the end, I am sure this is a film other people will truly love, I am just not one of those people, but then what do I know, I can’t be right all the time, I went go see this movie.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Scott Cooper
Screenplay by – Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk
Based on – ‘Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob’ by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill
Starring – Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corry Stoll, Adam Scott, David Harbour & Pete Sarsgaard
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Ireland: 15A; NZ: R16; UK: 15; USA: R