Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace)
Plot: The unholy alliance between the FBI and Whitey Bulger, one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history. Based on the book.
Review: What I thought it would be about – Dark Matter
What it turned out to be- Black: gloomy;Mass:
I made a mistake in judging Black Mass initially, as critics are to do. I thought that the movie would be about the all consuming force that is Whitey Bulger/ Johnny Depp chewing the scenery like he does best while various famous faces scramble around him unable to do anything but sneer until they are trapped by his pull. It turns out that rather than being a more measured scientific take on the concept of Dark Matter, director Scott Cooper takes Black Mass in religious form, framing his film with oblique biblical allusions referring to the idea of Satan and the title term being the inversion of going to Christian Mass. It seems nobody told him how boring going there actually is. Tuning in episodically seeing the same thing over and over again. The formula and characters within the world of Black Mass are given material that feels as old and dry as church itself.
Perhaps it was my own carelessness, but I was unable to tell until the epilogue two different characters apart. That could also be a testament to how bland the film is despite its R-rating. The movie opens with the testimony of many characters that are hinted as being key witnesses to the crimes of the Winter Hill gang and promises a decent framing device, yet these characters sporadically show up on screen. A hard-nosed Jessie Plemons all but falls off the map after a distinguished introduction, and the brotherhood/ loyalty theme (more biblical allusions) is rarely tested and is questionably consistent at best. Not much more is made about the relationship between the Bulger brothers or Whitey and FBI agent John Connolly despite various supper scenes suggesting so.
There is nothing new here that hasn’t been covered in dozens of other gangster films before such as; The Godfather, Goodfellas, American Gangster, and particularly The Departed with its South Boston setting. The audience is shown an a era where a deal facilitated between a thug turned kingpin and a boring corrupt FBI agent (the personal justifications for are never fully explained) affected various boring lives. The filmmakers assemble a decent cast to show up for work but it is all for naught without giving them material with a compelling hook. It’s like how you were told when you were little Mass was important but then when you got there you dawdled off on your own thoughts, forgetting where you were or why you were there.
The so called unholy alliance that drives the film, though factually-based is never tested, and the objective of which remains under-explored. As a result, it is a bit of a mess for as long as it goes on, like a bad homily. Even with a good Johnny Depp at its centre, it isn’t as if the movie has a clear arc or direction to move. A slow moving, non-emitting slog that’s too boring for my taste informs me I should stay away from Director Scott Cooper as long as I want to stay awake. Like… you know.
What got me to the theatre:
Johnny Depp said that this is his favourite out of all the films that he has done. Johnny Depp tried multiple times to speak to Whitey Bulger while preparing for the role to which Bulger declined.
Spoiler Alert: During production, the real-life John Connolly’s accessory to murder conviction was overturned.
In an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2003), Johnny Depp admitted that he broke his rule of not watching his own movies with this one. He was at the film’s debut in Venice. He was about to skip out of watching the film, but the director asked him to stay, so he did.
Sienna Miller filmed a part as one of Whitey’s girlfriend’s but was cut from the film due to pacing issues.
Many of the scenes where a murder occurred in the film were filmed in the actual location where the real murder took place.