Black Mass (2015) – Gangster | Drama
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Starring: Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton
How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video
Best Line: “The last thing I would do if I was planning to harm you is to warn you in advance, you dumb fuck.”
One of the most polarizing genres of film is the gangster movie. Loyalists often argue the merits behind the Godfather films and compare those with the absolute perfection of GoodFellas. Personally, I love the first two of the Godfather trilogy and GoodFellas about just as much as the other (admit it, you watch GoodFellas every time you happen upon it clicking through channels). A good gangster flick is just perfect sometimes. While Black Mass can’t really be placed in this higher echelon, it is still a damn good time and may even take its own place as time goes on.
Scott Cooper has only directed two movies previous to Black Mass. Those that saw Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (for which he won an Oscar) know a bit of what to expect out of a Cooper film; it’s going to be dark, dirty, a bit depressing and there’s going to be some pretty cool music. 2013’s critically under-appreciated (in my opinion) Out of the Furnace continued this trend, but turned those elements up to the max. Woody Harrelson is especially disgusting and I felt like there was definitely a lot more that we were going to get out of Cooper.
Then the trailer for Black Mass hit. Cooper traded the country music and Appalachian meth dealers in for 1970’s Boston gangsterland. Johnny Depp looked like he fell out of a Tim Burton nightmare and I honestly thought it looked too much like The Departed. The more I watched it though, the more I was intrigued. When I learned more about the supporting cast (including Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Peter Sarsgaard, etc.), I knew I had to check this one out.
Let’s start with what is great about this movie. I love The Departed. The accents, the cast, the crazy ending; all are great about that film. One thing I’ve noticed as time goes on though, is that it feels too chaotic, almost disjointed in its storytelling. Scorcese does some frantic cuts and at times, it’s difficult to keep up, but I think that’s also what makes his movies as exciting as they are. Black Mass, like The Departed is based in Boston, but it spans over a few decades. It does not take the same approach and really paces itself in its build-up of Johnny Depp’s character, Whitey Bulger.
This is important, because I really believe this character is one of the chameleon-esque Depp’s best. From the moment his face appears, it’s clear that this is not going to be the kooky Depp we so often get. This is a character that can stand on its own in the gangster canon, including the Vic Vega’s, the Tommy DeVito’s, the Michael Corleone’s. Depp’s Bulger is downright frightening, and his presence steals every scene in this film.
Something that I felt the movie was missing though, was just a little bit more to the story to make it more exciting. I don’t want to say it lags in the middle, but there was a definite change of tone from where the film started. If you can handle changes like this in movies, you’ll be just fine and appreciate Cooper trying to tell a story, but I could see how some would check out at this point.
There are a lot of moments in Black Mass where I felt like I did watching Out of the Furnace: Cooper is trying some really cool things. There are some awesome zoom shots in Black Mass that I wasn’t expecting and he even seems to be experimenting with some Nicolas Winding Refn-ish, neon-infused backdrops that really breathe some life into the gritty browns I’ve come to expect from Cooper’s films.
If you like gangster movies, you’re probably going to like this one. There’s great one-liners, it’s bloody as hell at times, and it’s got some great characters. It may not stand up as one of the best in the genre, but god damn, it’s worth the ticket alone for Johnny’s Depp’s Bulger.
Final Score: 3/4
Similar Films: Killing Them Softly, Out of the Furnace, The Departed