There I was, sat at work, nervously searching for “Black Mass” images. I say nervously because, well, it does sound a bit like a euphemism for a particular appendage known to be rather large in certain races.
Ironically; the origin of the term Black Mass appears to come from some sort of sexual ritual which was, at some point, assimilated into a Satanism by involving worshipping, black candles and hearty doses of butt nakedness.
I can only assume that the title Black Mass is a reference to James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) being somewhat of an evil person and therefore satanic rather than a reference to him being a massive penis yet it so easily could be have been the later!!
That said; this film portrays him as having a nicer side to his character. He barely seems to drink, doesn’t smoke and doesn’t do drugs – he just peddles the stuff instead. Outside of his business ventures he is a caring brother and loving son who happens a remarkably low tolerance for idiots and snitches.
This is one of the main problems with the film. It’s nothing that you haven’t seen before. We have seen plenty of gangster movies that shows the kingpin being caring to old ladies or those close to him then; only 5 minutes later, bludgeoning someone else to death.
What most of those movies hold above Black Mass is that a lot of them have a sense of style. Now, I’ve never been to Boston where all this took place but if director Scott Cooper or art director Jeremy Woodward tried to evoke the vibe of 1980’s Boston then I can only assume that Boston is a hugely uninspiring place.
One part of this film you don’t see that often is Johnny Depp in a serious role. It’s clear that he can still perform well in these roles but unfortunately Whitey simply isn’t that interesting due to his often quiet, introverted and calculating nature. The few moments of blind rage highlight why he is a dangerous man and also provide a few rare moments of excitement in an film that otherwise drags its feet.
It will come as no real surprise that story follows Whitey’s escalation from a small time crook to the Boston’s overlord and subsequently falling into all too familiar trappings of a criminal over extending his reach and everything crumbling around him.
The only refreshing part of the storyline is Whitey’s childhood friend/acquaintance John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) who helps take down the Mafia and anyone who stood in Whitey’s path whilst simultaneously covering up his own illicit activities.
Even though Whitey becomes the kingping of Boston you never really get the feeling that he is the big shot in town. He doesn’t flash his cash and only ever holds the company of one or two people so it only ever feels like his network is a handful of people strong.
How the FBI let Connolly talk them into the actions they took is also confusing. The logic behind Connolly’s strategy of empowering Whitey to get rid of the Mafia isn’t exactly sound but at least it’s believable unlike his attempts to cover-up for Whitey which ultimately boil down to “Come on man!?! nuh-uh…this guy? pshhh.”
This means that the FBI and almost everyone who comes into contact with Connolly looks like a monumental embarrassment to any school debate team. It’s almost like the department is run by Benny Hill, Droopy dog and a half eaten sponge pudding. In fact if it wasn’t for some decent acting from all of the supporting cast – particularly Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon and Corey Stoll – I fear the whole film might have been as much as a fucking shambles as the Boston division of the FBI.
At no point does this film ever feel fresh or new and there feels like big gaps are left in the story’s timeline as well as some of the character development. Uninspiring art direction and scripting leaves the film feeling bland and unimaginative and whilst this isn’t enough to make it un-watchable it certainly doesn’t feel like Boston is the black heart of Massachusetts.
Oh wait: Black Massachusetts… Black Mass?!
- Johnny Depp in a serious role again
- Supporting cast
- The few moments where Whitey goes psycho
- Never get the feeling that Whitey is a kingpin
- Bland setting
- Nothing you haven’t seen before