Directed by Scott Cooper
The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
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★★★½ review by Evan on Letterboxd
Johnny Depp might still be covered in make-up for this role, but at least he's not running around like a babbling idiot. Instead he plays a very dark, heartless, and brutal man and he knocks it out of the park. Black Mass is filled with fantastic performances, Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton being the standouts.
My biggest issue with this film is that it's a bit hollow and slow moving. While, I was always interested in what was going on, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bored some of the time.
★★★★ review by Andy Summers on Letterboxd
Was this the side of Johnny Depp that Amber Heard saw during their marriage?
★★★½ review by Wesley R. Ball on Letterboxd
It's not what you do, it's when and where you do it, and who you do it to or with. If nobody sees it, it didn't happen.
I'm just gonna warn everyone right here: Remember in the trailer at the end where Johnny Depp does that epic clap that perfectly syncs with "Til It's Gone's" tempo? It doesn't happen in the movie at all. That was probably the most epic part of the trailer and they just pulled it right out from under my face. It was a pretty big disappointment for me. The story itself, however, is quite fascinating, although its execution is completely misleading as well.
All of the posters and the trailers seem to indicate that this film is about the rise and fall of James Whitey Bulger and his questionable informant connections with the FBI. However, the film actually puts most of its focus on Agent John Connolly and his own questionably corrupt ethics. Which is a real shame, because his character ended up being terribly uninteresting to me. Johnny Depp leaps out of the screen as Bulger, and he gives the absolute best parts of the film, possibly the performance of a lifetime. But when the film decides to shift its entire focus onto the downfall of this FBI investigator, the character development and story just fall flat.
Bulger is a regular Trevor Philips. He doesn't take anything from anyone and does what he wants, whenever and wherever he wants. Only problem is, there's some territory on the other side of Boston that his gang is at war to control. So what's the easiest way for him to gain control of this territory? Strike up a deal with the FBI as a snitch-but-not-really-a-snitch, of course. Bulger's constant denial towards being an FBI informant provides some great tension between him and his other gang members, and supplemented the perfect "downfall" storyline. It's unfortunate that the director decided to switch the main focus onto the FBI agent's corrupt dealings and Bulger's information feeding instead of the actual rise and fall of the criminal mastermind. It just became so uninteresting that I kept asking myself "Where is Johnny Depp? I came here for Johnny Depp. Not the creepy dude from The Gift." It's just a massive spin on expectations that makes me trust trailers nowadays even less than I already did.
If you're truly interested in FBI and police procedurals, then Black Mass just may be the film for you. Johnny Depp may have some serious Oscar potential in this role, and I won't be surprised if he is nominated. But the way the film chose to utilize its subject character was ultimately so dull and disappointing. If it weren't for Depp's performance of a lifetime, this movie would have completely sunk under the radar. I don't have high hopes for this film's financial success either, given that the Friday night screening I was in was almost as scarce as my Fant4stic one and consisted entirely of people at least 15-20 years my senior. I'd never felt so weird in a theater crowd since I went and saw The Artist, which was basically like sitting in a nursing home for 100 minutes. The trailers for Black Mass look like they try to appeal to younger, cooler moviegoers, but the reality is that the story is too flat and uninteresting for modern audiences, when Bulger is put on the backburner. It was a disappointment to see where the film's focus truly lied, and I had hoped for something more. Still, it's definitely Depp's best performance in years, so at least that's something I walked away with.
★★★½ review by Blain LaMotta on Letterboxd
Black Mass is the fascinating account of Whitey Bulger's rise to power through his alliance with FBI agent John Connolly. It features what is one of Johnny Depp's most evocative performances as the seductive, vile, and morally questionable Bulger. Every shot with him in the frame never ceases to impress. As a vision of the worst of humanity, it is just a delectable treat to watch him work. He is almost equally matched by Joel Edgerton's loyalty bound, power thirsty Connolly. There are also various subplots and minor characters that are weaved throughout the tale, giving their first hand accounts of what they witnessed. It's this sprawling viewpoint that is frustrating, for the focus shifts constantly. It also doesn't help that the film fails to break free from its gangster trappings or add a fresh spin. Scott Cooper's restrained direction was a wise decision though, for he lets the actors do all the heavy lifting, which allows seemingly superfluous scenes to crackle with life. Seriously, the acting in this thing is off the charts, and leads to some memorable pieces of character interaction. The tight-knit milieu of Boston is effectively rendered through wide establishing shots and the colorful personalities of the community. The constant, looming violence is also handled with the gritty realism it deserves too. Aside from a few devastating scenes between Bulger and his girlfriend, played quite brilliantly by Dakota Johnson, there is not much of an emotional core to be found. I wasn't much bothered by it, but it could have added a lot more to the proceedings. Nevertheless, I was consistently gripped throughout this hardcore tale of cancerous corruption, even if it fails to amount to anything in the end. Then again, Bulger and company's accomplishments didn't either.
★★★★ review by WillML on Letterboxd
God it's good to see Johnny Depp make a comeback like this. In fact it's so good that every time he's not on screen the film is just little bit less compelling. But only just a little.
As Scott Cooper, the director, said afterwards at the Q&A, the gangster genre is a genre of films that holds some of the greatest films of all time. There's a lot to live up to, and as a filmmaker there are a lot of familiar roads you can make the mistake of going down.
And while the storytelling might be familiar at times, Cooper does such a incredible job with his actors and the time he takes and the ways in which he develops his characters (as proven in "Out of the Furnace"), that while the story does goes down similar roads, it does so in such refreshingly unique ways, and these subtleties easily make Black Mass, much thanks to Depp's career-saving and affirming performance, easily one of the better and more importantly smarter gangster films to come out in a long time.
What Cooper also displays is that he's a very smart filmmaker. He mentioned many times how he wouldn't shoot certain coverage for a scene and in a lot of instances not even show (or even film during shooting) character's faces during a conversation. So when he showed some scenes to the studio they said "well what about cutting to some coverage here?", Cooper would say "We can't... 'Cuz I didn't shoot it". He knows what he wants and he definitely gets it.
The rest of the cast is truly great (Edgerton is a standout), the story is mostly compelling (I will say there are some scenes that could have been cut or shortened as I easily felt the length of this film), but above all, "Black Mass" easily proves as not only the comeback that Johnny Depp needed, but also the comeback needed for the crime and gangster genre.
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