Black Mass shows the exploits of notorious South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger during his infamous relationship with the FBI as an informant.
Black Mass shows the brutality, cunning, and terror of Bulger through hits he performs himself and the deals he makes with the FBI. The murders in this film do seem heartless and depraved of humanity, and it’s in that sense that this movie succeeds.
However, there’s not a lot going on. Sure, there’s killing, illegal deals with government agencies, and Johnny Depp gives his first good performance while not dressed like a pirate in 10 or 15 years. But while that sounds exciting and all, at the core this movie amounts to more like just a series of events that are tied together by one common factor: Bulger.
There’s a distinct lack of humanity, as I said earlier, but it’s not just in the Bulger character. It’s in everyone. This is a story, if you can call it a story with its lack of direction, about criminals and crooked FBI agents. With that being said, there’s no one to get behind. While I’m all for a movie that displays the misdeeds of others, especially gangsters, I find it hard to care about any of the people portrayed in this film. The lack of empathy this movie builds for its characters combined with the murders in every scene, you begin to realize when someone’s going to be killed off, but you don’t care. I’m not saying that this film should’ve portrayed these characters in a manner so that I feel bad for them, but to at least direct it in a way that comes off as suspenseful and at least unpredictable.
The biggest thing this movie has going for it is Depp’s performance as Bulger, because if that wasn’t good there probably wouldn’t be any praise for this thing at all. The makeup, while a little hard to get over at first, does lend to his portrayal, and his performance is still felt through the prosthetics. Depp gives a frightening and cold feel to this character, but in a way so that you do believe that the real life Whitey Bulger was this way. There are some memorable scenes, and in large part to this character’s portrayal. My only problem with Bulger in this film isn’t anything to do with Depp himself, but perhaps the story. While Bulger does kill more than a couple people here, they never seem to stress exactly how big his organization actually is, and because of that I never really believed him as the Boston kingpin that I’m told he was.
The direction isn’t really going anywhere but forward, and by the end of the movie it seems like you just watched a collage of a gangster’s career, rather than a cohesive story with a definite beginning, middle, and end.
Depp was good, the brutality was well done and portrayed perhaps too well for the stories own good, but I think this film still deserves a watch. It’s not bad, but when you inevitably compare it to the mafia classics like Goodfellas or The Godfather, it definitely falls short.