By Jack Gradis (Gresham, Oregon)


Black Mass is directed by Scott Cooper, and stars Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film tells the true story of infamous rise and fall of James “Whitey” Bulger, the most violent criminal in South Boston history. While Black Mass lacks an emotional core, and the pacing is poor, the intrigue of the story and Depp’s performance make it work.

What ultimately makes Black Mass’s engine run are the performances, headlined by legendary work from Depp. He provides a calm yet sinister presence as Whitey Bulger, demanding your attention in every scene he is in. The rest of the ensemble also shines. Edgerton is fantastic, slowly deteriorating into corruption. Cumberbatch and Dakota Johnson are also great in their limited roles.

The story Black Mass tells is so fascinating, it’s hard to believe it’s true. The level of FBI corruption and sinister mob activity that was allowed to happen is shocking. Even through the bumpy script and pacing, I was totally invested in the story and trying to figure out how all of these events took place. Every scene with Depp is enthralling, putting you on the edge of your seat. There are some truly unforgettable scenes in this film, all of with have Depp front and center.

The biggest crime Black Mass commits is in the pacing. Way too much time is spent with the FBI, and not enough with Depp. While the FBI stuff is interesting, there are multiple scenes that accomplish the same thing as the ones before it. A solid 15-20 minutes could have been cut or trimmed from those scenes, and more of that time could have been devoted to showing the rise of Bulger and how he became a king pin.

Director Scott Cooper does a good job conveying the sincerity of the events that took place, but without an emotional core, the film comes off feeling rather bleak. None of the main characters are good, clean people. While that could work, the script isn’t powerful enough to overcome the fact that there is no one to root for. By the ending, I was left feeling dirty and rotten for watching two hours of people getting away with being evil and corrupt, and then suddenly facing consequences in the last 10 minutes.

On the surface, the film is big, brash and very glossy. The violent scenes are visually pleasing, and the backdrop of 70’s-80’s Boston is rather spot on. But underneath these thin layers, Black Mass is nothing more than a paint by numbers gangster biopic. If not for Depp’s performance, this film would just serve as a reminder that you could be watching Goodfellas or The Departed. Still, as a knock-off of better gangster films, the true story intrusive coupled with the performances make this a film I didn’t mind watching and would like to watch again to try and analyze why so much time was spent with the FBI.

Overall, Black Mass isn’t a groundbreaking gangster biopic. The pacing is off, and there is no one to emotionally latch on to. However, if you view it as a showcase for the return of Johnny Depp, and find the story as intriguing as I did, this film is still a solid viewing. If Goodfellas and The Departed aren’t available, Black Mass is a fine substitute. Depp is worth the price of admission alone.



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