Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Black Mass

Black Mass, 2015
Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson and Kevin Bacon.

James "Whitey" Bulger is a notorious criminal in South Boston, whose brother is a senator and childhood friend now works for the FBI. Jimmy, as his friends call him, is tough, merciless and a psychopath. In 1975, Jimmy teams up with his friend John Connolly, an FBI agent in Boston, striking a "business deal". He claims he isn't an informant or a rat, but that he'll work with the FBI to help them bring down the mafia, in return for the FBI protecting them. But things spiral out of control as Jimmy's empire grows and Connolly finds himself being swept away by Jimmy.

I first became interested when Black Mass released it's first trailer. It's still such a fantastic trailer that really sets the tone for what Black Mass is. Or tries to be, anyway. Johnny Depp dives back into makeup and costumes, but this time to give us a much more subtle and nuanced performance as Jimmy. Jimmy is definitely a psychopath, but there is no hammy performance here. Depp brings his A-game and reminds us why he was regarded as such a fantastic actor, even if the character wasn't as three dimensional as others have made it out to be.

The acting is definitely the high point of this film. Everyone seems to be on their A-game here. Joel Edgerton was a surprise for me, as I've always found him to just be a little blah. But Edgerton is really able to submerse himself into the role of John Connolly, bringing just as much subtlety and nuance as Depp brings to Jimmy. Connolly was swept away with Jimmy as a child, growing up in South Boston together. And he's excited when he's able to strike a deal with Jimmy. But Connolly starts to get swept away with Jimmy all over again, letting murder, extortion and drug dealing (among many other things) happen. Connolly becomes entranced by the gangster life, while still staying an FBI agent, landing himself just enough information to be able to take down the Italian Mafia so that he can secure promotion after promotion.

The supporting cast are also all on point here. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Jimmy's senator brother Billy, also does good (though limited) work here. I pegged Cumberbatch as probably not able to pull off a convincing Boston accent, but I was left surprised. It was much better than I ever expected, even if it was much thicker and seemed to be trying much harder than others. Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll and Juno Temple also have extremely small roles, though all are quite good.

The movie itself got off to an extremely solid start, but I felt things started to get a little less coherent and to lose control a little bit, only about 30-45 minutes in, around the time Jimmy starts dealing with his son. Things were fantastic and well paced until this point, but then things started to just become a little more blah. I can't place my finger on why. I had thought maybe we were starting to get to know these characters well, but it turns out we were still not brought closer than an arms length. The story itself, too, seemed to jump around. Again, I can't place my finger on what exactly was not so great about the pacing or story, but it just wasn't. The movie was extremely close to being fantastic, but settled for being just good.

The story itself was chilling and it does get across how horrific working for Jimmy would've been, and narrating what went wrong, that so many people in his gang are now informants on him. Jimmy is horrific and violent, but we never quite understand why or what his motivation is as a person. All we know is he is someone to be feared, and fear him we do. However, the relationship between Jimmy and Connolly is well grown and developed, and even though it spans over some 15 years and jumps periods at a time, Jimmy and Connolly's relationship is explored well.

Black Mass could've been great, but we still find refuge in the fact that the actors all step up to the plate and deliver their best. Even bringing some career-best performances from a few. However, Black Mass is still a well-made and shot film, eerily chilly and stone cold. Black Mass is by no means a bad movie, it just never quite lives up to how close it got to being fantastic.

Will there be Oscars in Black Mass's future? At this point, your safest bets stay solely in the acting categories. At this point, Depp is all but a lock for a nomination for Lead Actor, and Edgerton, too, is gaining Supporting Actor buzz, both of which have strong shots at nominations. How much more than that? At this point, that remains to be seen.


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