I’d been looking forward to Black Mass for months. The trailers promised a dark, gritty and violent crime film reminiscent of Scorsese’s classics like Goodfellas and Casino. The actual movie delivered on those three fronts- but only barely. Black Mass was nowhere near as dark, gritty or violent as the mobster classics that we have come to know and love.
The film recounts the story of James “Whitey” Bulger (played by Johhny Depp), a street thug turned crime lord, from the perspectives of two of his former associates. It picks off with the return of John Conolly (played by Joel Edgerton) to South Boston as an FBI agent. Conolly, a former friend of Whitey, approaches him with an opportunity to work together for a mutual benefit: Whitey provides the FBI with details about a rival mob boss, and the agency turns a blind eye to Whitey’s nefarious operations. As the plot unfolds, Whitey and his crew become a force to be reckoned with, considering the FBI has removed all of his competition. Everything works in Whitey and Conolly’s favour until a new District Attorney begins questioning the FBI’s relationship with the crime lord.
The script, written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth (based on a 2001 book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill), proves to be rather unimaginative and overly predictable. Character development is also lacking because the film fails to provide us with a sufficient backstory. More importantly, the movie whizzes by without any semblance of a climax.
Unimpressive storyline aside, Depp’s portrayal of the devious criminal Bulger is commendable. No stranger to prosthetics and heavy make-up, the 52 year-old actor seemed at home in the skin of a balding, blue-eyed psychopath with a dead tooth. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Depp’s performance as Bulger is his ability to make his presence seem imposing despite his unintimidating stature.
Black Mass won’t soon go down in history as one of the mobster classics, but as far as individual performances go, Depp upholds his high level of professionalism and dedication to his craft. But I’m sorry Mr. Depp, one actor’s stellar performance, does not a movie make.