Film Review: BLACK MASS

Warner Brothers Entertainment
Director: Scott Cooper

Good gangster movies burn into your brain, leaving sounds, images, and emotional experiences you won’t soon forget. The Godfather, Casino, and Goodfellas hit the mark by telling period-correct tales that spanned years, sometimes decades, while weaving intricate family threads among a tapestry of bold crime, graphic violence, and unadulterated greed. Black Mass incorporated the same hallmark elements, components that should’ve propelled it to blockbuster status, but failed to accomplish one important thing; make the viewer react.

Johnny Depp plays Boston crime lord, Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger in this film based on the 2001 novel Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neil. Depp’s performance is stellar. His psychopathic stare and ability to strangle a hooker then take a nap give the viewer an engaging character, but subplots involving Bulger’s family, including the death of his six-year-old son, lacked, leaving the character as a one-dimensional villain. Relationships between himself and the thugs of his Winter Hill gang felt non-existent, making it difficult for the viewer to emotionally invest in their betrayals and deaths.

While the sets squarely placed the viewer in the 1970’s/80’s by including tin-plated beer cans, avocado green wallpapers, behemoth Cadillacs, and polyester butterfly collars, the music fell flat. With an unlimited variety of incredible songs to pick from, Black Mass should’ve had a killer soundtrack worthy of its own playlist, but Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way was the only tune to receive extended play. Besides Depp’s sometimes bizarre makeup, another disappointing element was the swift introduction and execution of secondary characters. Their deaths enraged Winter Hill gang members, but not viewers because the storyline didn’t feature enough dedication to their development, again leaving the viewer feeling disconnected. With a two hour and two minute run time, inspiring cinematography, phenomenal sets and a slew of talented actors, including Kevin Bacon and Jesse Plemons, Black Mass had the bones to become Irish mafia movie gold. Instead it’s slow pace and underdeveloped subplots smelt it into a quick-tarnishing silver that the viewer will soon forget.

Ava Black