When faced with overwhelming odds as well as having to deal with extremely notorious and dangerous mobsters, it would not be such a far stretch to say that you might have to make deals with some unsavory characters to put bad guys away. In the case of John Connolly, a FBI Special Agent from the 1970’s that was tasked with taking down the Italian Mob, he has to make a deal with the devil. And we all know that when you make a deal with the devil, you get burned. This holds true even in the latest Johnny Depp film Black Mass.
This is honestly one of the best acted films that I have seen in a while. Johnny Depp, in particular, impresses greatly as he dives into the role of the despicable and detestable Whiter Bulger. He is a cold and angry force to be reckoned with and if you were unlucky enough to cross paths with Whitey, then you should count your lucky stars that you were able to get out with your lives. There are many scenes in this film that are chalked full of tension quite literally because of how well Depp is able to capture the character of James Bulger.
Depp plays James “Whitey” Bulger a, low-level but tough as nails, criminal who makes a deal with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to inform on his enemies in the Italian Mob. John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) recruits him in hopes to clean up the north-end of Boston and make a name for himself. The deal helps both of the men as Bulger gets to run is own crew, the Winter Hill Gang, without fear of police-intervention as well as getting the opportunity to expand his empire by taking our his enemies while Connolly gets to clean up the streets and make a name for himself along the way.
Bulger, in reality, reveals little to no information with any substance and Connolly is forced to edit or fabricate evidence to make it look like Bulger is bringing him stellar information. As the movie continues, Bulger escalates and starts killing anyone he sees as a threat which causes Connolly to start burying evidence of Bulger’s crimes because part of their deal was that Whitey would not commit murder. As Connolly continues to climb the ranks at the Bureau, he becomes more and more corrupt and his wife soon realizes that he is no longer the man she married. Or was he? The movie is vague on this point– to me… it seemed like he was as corrupt as Bulger from the very beginning and it just took extreme circumstances to reveal his own corruption.
In any case, Bulger’s continued crimes along with Connolly’s excessive evidence manipulation causes both of them to get in trouble. It leads to the arrest of Connolly and his partner as well as the arrest of most of the Winter Hill Gang. To save their own skins, some of Bulger’s closest friends and gang members rat him out for reduced sentences. Bulger goes on the run and is later captured… much MUCH later.
I revealed a bit more under the “synopsis” section in part because it was no surprise. For one, the movie literally starts with Bulger’s gang informing on him in fact, the story is, in part, told from their perspectives. Additionally, in a film like this, you know what you are getting when a FBI agent partners with a ruthless criminal. No one really wins. Have you seen The Departed? It is a lot like that. And the best part of the film is not the plot, really, it is the acting. It might be one of the best acted movies this year. Every character was done perfectly and Johnny Depp, in particular, was incredibly menacing and formidable.
The biggest problem with this film is not the acting, it is the story and the perspective the writers of the movie chose to focus on. The film focuses on the incredibly gruesome and dark exploits of one James “Whitey” Bulger, a small-time crook who turned into the most notorious criminal in south-east Boston during the 1970’s. While this leads to some amazing one-off scenes in the movie, the problem lies in a lack of character arc. Bulger is the exact same person from the beginning until the end of the movie. They attempt to humanize him during smalls scenes with his common-law wife, his mother and his son. But these scenes do little to make Bulger a truly interesting character and instead what you get is an irredeemable man committing unspeakable crimes mostly…well…because he can. He has no grand scheme or plan other that to make as much money and gain as much power as possible. This leads to very little conflict in the film.
To make matters worse, there are no other redeemable characters in the film. Everyone is despicable and the ones who seem anything close to righteous are barely shown throughout the movie. Connolly could have been the sort of pseudo-hero of the movie as he struggled with the idea of wanting to make Boston a better place but having to stoop to getting help from Bulger. The problem with that is there is no struggle for him. He is old friends with Whitey and you get the impression that he could care less if Boston was safer or not– he just wants to gain power of his own.
And because of this lack of character development or change, the film can get boring at times. Bulger, while being an incredibly fascinating character, can only carry a film of crime and violence for so long. The best movie-comparison I can make is Denzel Washington’s American Gangster that displayed an equally compelling crime-lord and was similar to Black Mass in that the main character never changed and, as such, the film never really had a climax.
But again, this movie is worth a watch quite simply because of the amazing acting to be found. Joel Edgerton, Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch and more did an amazing job in this film and so many scenes are filled with tension and dread with very little else to help it along accept dialogue. If you’re watching this film to see a great and compelling story unfold, this definitely will disappoint. But if you want to see amazing characters acted perfectly, then you will probably love this movie.
While I have problems with the lack of character development, the initial plot about a crime-boss teaming up with and FBI agent to help clean up the streets is an incredibly compelling plot. The issue lies in their lack of execution and missed opportunities. (15/20)
Bulger is an amazing character, but I have issues that the film almost exclusively focused on him. This was a severe drag to the film. Add that to the fact that John Connolly could have been an extremely compelling character, but he was painted as someone just as evil and conniving as Bulger, and you have me feeling a tinge of disappointment. (10/20)
I may not like the characters all that much, but there is no question that they were acted extremely well. And, quite honestly, I would watch a solo-film from each of the characters in the main cast any day based on how well they were acted. (I would actually watch a movie that illustrates Benedict Cumberbatch’s struggle in maintaining his relationship with an evil brother and balancing being the mayor). (20/20)
I liked that the story was told from the perspective of his old crew ratting on him. But I did not like that the film’s sole focus was Whitey Bulger. He is an incredibly interesting person in reality, but on-screen there just wasn’t enough of a developed character to warrant being a great film. Had they chose a different character as the protagonist, it may have been a better movie overall. (15/30)because
Ad-Campaign (out of 10)
The teaser-trailer brings back the same tension and craziness of Joe Pesci’s “Am I a clown” scene from Goodfellas. Depp brings such crazy tension to the scene that it was really all I needed to become excited about this film. (10/10)