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Black Mass Thoughts

Black Mass Thoughts

Artwork by Edward J. Moran "In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) persuades Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history."

Artwork by Edward J. Moran

"In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) persuades Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history."

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a good gangster film and sadly Black Mass continues that trend. To be frank, it makes you want to watch The Departed & Goodfellas again. It’s hard to say anything good about Black Mass, it fails on every level and it’s a shame they’d let Scott Cooper direct it. He’s a terrible director and with all the talent involved with Black Mass, he still couldn’t make a good film. Black Mass has some great ideas, a great core story but it just can’t capitalize on that. It infuriates me that Warner Brothers choose to go with this project over Ben Affleck & Matt Damon’s Whitey Bulger movie. Those 2 had nothing but passion for the story. And I think Damon would have done just a good job as Depp if not better as Whitey. 

Depp’s performance is really the highlight of this movie and it’s all people will be talking about but there are a couple of things that hold it back. His character goes through no changes at all. He’s an evil guy from the beginning of the movie till the very end. Nothing changes and as everyone gets older, he still looks the same. The make up job on the movie is horrific, Depp doesn’t even look like a real person and he never ages. I understand they wanted to make him look a little closer to Bulger but Bulger didn’t start to bald till late in his career. Worst make up of the year award definitely goes to Black Mass. I’m not against using make up to make a character look closer to whom they’re supposed to resemble. Case in point, Steve Carrell’s make up in Foxcatcher worked. He looked even more like Du Pont and it added to the performance. Depp’s make up pulls you from the performance, it’s like he’s some monster running around terrifying people and yes Bulger was a monster but it seems like his appearance is what terrifies people, not his personality. Thankfully Depp doesn’t decide to phone it in here.

Depp’s a good actor even though it’s not his first career choice. He always comes and puts effort into his performances. Lately his film choices have been horrendous and his selection of terrible scripts doesn’t change in Black Mass but he put more effort in this performance than his last couple of movies. He’s terrifying, creepy, his accent doesn’t seem fake. He makes the movie watchable but that’s not to say rest of the cast wasn’t good. Everyone was really good in their minor roles but their characters are so underdeveloped. They serve no large purpose for the story, it’s ‘hey look we got this big actor in the movie!’ Give me a break! Cumberbatch’s Boston accent threw me off at first but it grew on me as the film went on but nothing happens with that character. He’s just there. The only supporting character that kind of gets to do anything is Joel Edgerton’s John Connolly. He’s essentially the second protagonist with complicated vibes. He’s just a weasel and Edgerton does his best to make this character interesting but there’s no dimension. The character is written as a prick. Nothing more. The film is full of unlikable characters. The gang members are typical gang archetypes and the wives are given nothing to do. The mob wife role is an overdone one but a significant one. Connolly’s wife is the only one who’s kind of given an arc but that ends too quickly towards the end. Dakota Johnson who was playing Bulger’s wife (or girlfriend? Tough to tell because the film assumes the audience knows everything about Bulger a huge problem in the movie that I’ll talk about more) disappears an hour into the movie. No stupid narration on what happened to her or anything. She just disappears. There’s constant narration of how Bulger’s tragedies changed him but he’s still the same guy from the beginning. Black Mass automatically assumes its audiences are stupid.  Though regarding casting, I really want to give a huge shout out to Peter Sarsgaard's cameo, his scene might be the best in the movie.  

The narrations are annoying and terribly done. Some of the actors mumble their lines so we’re supposed to rely on their mumbles for information. It’s frustrating. Constant things happen in the movie like people in Bulger’s life die, random characters are introduced but we’re not shown what effect they have. There’s also the turf war that is talked about in the first half of the movie but it plays no part. It’s just there. Like I said before, important things are never elaborated on, some things are left alone. That’s the huge problem with Black Mass, there’s no narrative. Characters aren’t fleshed out. It’s random scene after random scene with narrations filling in the gaps. It’s annoying, it’s like watching a really boring fictionalized documentary. ( They didn’t even stay true to the facts) Things happen in the movie like different characters knowing each other for a long time when there was no previous interactions shown. It’s because of this technique the film holds no entertainment value. It’s aggravating to watch. There is literally no suspense in the scenes. All the exciting stuff happens off screen. It’s sad when you have such a great cast and you can’t think of anything for them to do. There are a couple of nice shots of the Boston exterior but Scott Cooper does not know how to captivate audiences at all.

Overall, Black Mass is a mess, it’s poorly made, it lacks heart and has no story. It’s definitely not the source material’s problem because there is an interesting story in Bulger’s life. Instead Cooper doesn’t know what to do with his superb cast. The only effort in the movie is put into Depp’s atrocious make up so that shows you what kind of movie Black mass is. It’s a poorly written movie and poorly directed. A movie’s lead performance can only do so much but a director has to help make it exciting. It’s tragic because like I mentioned previously, Damon & Affleck had a very strong vision that was canned by Warner Brothers in favor of this atrocious movie. Black Mass isn’t Johnny Depp’s comeback, it’s more like an audition film to show you he can still act. Honestly I think I’ll just settle waiting for the next Jack Sparrow movie now. What’s even hilarious is that the movie ends like as if you watched some epic. I’m still waiting for the movie to begin. What an insult. If you’re interested in the story of Whitey Bulger, do yourself a favor and read the wikipedia page. It’s much more interesting. Black Mass is essentially a bullet point version of the wiki page.

Also I found it funny that “Young Matt Damon” Jesse Plemons is in the movie. With the Boston accent I feel as if Damon has a clone in hollywood. Discount Matt Damon?

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