Black Mass is grim, ugly stuff. There’s nothing glamourized here about the familiar crime and mafia ingredients that the well-worn narrative traffics in. Director Scott Cooper does a solid job with a lot of material, but something about this story screamed for epic length; this is the second concecutive picture for Cooper where I felt another 20-30 mins would have better fleshed out all the details.
Johnny Depp is chillingly excellent here, in full-on evil mode, with nasty dead-zone eyes, which were well captured by the versatile cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey, Warrior, Cooper’s Out of the Furnace). A huge ensemble cast peppers the proceedings in lively fashion; Joel Edgerton is terrific, Kevin Bacon is forceful, Jesse Plemmons is on a serious roll, Peter Sarsgaard plays a memorable coke-head, and Benedict Cumberbatch hits some elegant grace notes.
This is the story of Whitey Bulger, notorious Boston crime figure, who just recently was arrested after living life on the lam for over a decade. The 2014 documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger covered the same information and was about as riveting as documentaries get; besides, when someone is whacked in REAL TIME during the making of your doc, how can you compete with that?
Black Mass feels like a darker, more violent companion piece to Donnie Brasco, where we see low-level hoods doing really bad things, and while Black Mass certainly doesn’t break any new ground, for fans of this milieu, it’ll do the trick. Just as long as you’re not expecting Goodfellas or Casino or something overtly entertaining in that fashion, as Black Mass carries a funeral tone (helped immensely by Junkie XL’s mournful score), and feels almost burdened at times by its ostensible heaviness. Cooper sometimes feels like a filmmaker looking in on his material from a distance rather than being ensconced in the middle of it. See it for Depp’s psychotic portrayal of a very evil man and for Edgerton’s tricky performance as FBI agent John Connolly who got in way over his head.
Written by Nick Clement