Saturday, March 5, 2016

Film Review: Black Mass (2015)

Making films about gangsters, especially real-life ones, can often turn into a quite a boar and Black Mass is an ideal example. The story revolves around a steady rise to fame of James 'Whitey' Bulger, a Boston kingpin in the 1970’s and 1980’s, mainly thanks to his connections with the FBI task force in the same city.

Directed by the talented Scott Cooper, who made the impressive Out of the Furnace before this film, Black Mass falls short of being either thrilling or compelling.

As if he was star-struck by Johnny Depp, who plays Whitey, Cooper seems to struggle whenever he is not in the frame. The film just adores Depp and his evil, vampire-like persona, but does not succeed in showing the audience why should they care about this pale-eyed monster.

Of course, Whitey is a despicable but smart criminal, but most movie kingpins are something similar. He manipulates, terrifies, injures and kills his way out of any situation, but remains uninteresting as a character. What drives Whitey and what scares him? Cooper and his writing team seem to be as clueless about this as I am and it reflects in the film throughout.

The only kindling of interests this movie has to offer burns in FBI agent John Connolly, played by the spectacular Joel Edgerton. Here, a transformation can be witnessed by the audience, but it is still eclipsed by the face of Whitey, who always hovers over all other people in the film. The role is masterfully played, but the film doesn't know what to do with it inside of the bigger picture. This mistake dulled the film substantially and turned it into a TV documentary about an appalling man from Boston’s Southey.

Even thought it is a Depp-worshiping film, it cannot be called a disaster because it looks good from a visual standpoint (a new pattern of a fascination with the late 70’s can be seen here). But, A Most Violent Year develops a similar storyline in a similar environment but pulls it off it with a lot more tact and immersions. I’m sure that Black Mass does a lot of justice to the real events and people, but a rude question begs to be asked – who cares about the real James Bulger?

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