Black Mass – 4/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

black massBlack mass- 4/5 – Johnny Depp; a man of many faces.  In the last few years, he has taken on roles that have been subpar.  That seems to have changed with this new film.  A movie based on one of the notorious gangsters in US history; we finally get to see the caliber of acting Depp was known for in the past.  Through some intense scenes, slow building direction, Black Mass is arguably Depp’s finest role in quite some time, and the best Gangster film since The Departed.

Premise: This is the true story Whitey Bulger; the most notorious gangster in US history.

In the lead role, we have famed actor Johnny Depp.  As mentioned in the prologue, this is a man that can play in much different kind of roles.  He has been the flamboyant director, a undercover cop, a pirate and a vampire.  His range has no bounds as this is role proves this quality.  At the most, he shows in this role that he is still one of the best at the game.  Playing the role of the notorious gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger; he exudes the criminal mastermind at its finest.  From his stern posturing, interactions with his associates and subtle charisma; he commands the screen with a strong aura.  From the articulation in his dialogue to his physical presence, you feel the fierceness when he is on screen.  Bulger is a man of the most dangerous intent.  You see the realistic layers of this person in every facade of Depp’s performance.  His stare downs, silent demeanor and evil sense of humor startles the most subtle situations.  His commandment on screen is pristine, engrossing the audience into believing he’s the most dangerous man alive.  This is a true Oscar worthy performance.  Outside of Depp, there are many other great actors and actresses in this film.  If you want to see the list, you can refer to the IMDB page.  I will make note of a couple of performances in the secondary cast:

Joel Edgerton as John Connolly

Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger

These two do a great job in providing a ‘backdrop’ for Depp and the rest of the story.  In the role of John Connolly, you get to see Edgerton at his finest.  He plays an FBI agent, who uses Bulger as an informant to take down the Mob in Boston.  What you get to see is a very deep, interwoven relationship between him and Bulger develop.  His unhinging friendships started back in childhood, and you get to see how the fragile alliance harkens human flaws.  That blind support hides the fact or Bulger’s dangerous intent.  He exudes a thought of true friendship, which heightens both his personal stature and emotional discourse towards everyone else in his life (Wife, co-workers).  That dramatic tension is a great contrast to the suave, heavy presence of Depp.  It gives you a layering dynamic; one that prompts consideration of an Oscar caliber performance.   Cumberbatch, even if a lot more subtle, provides a softer side to Whitey Bulger’s family.  He gives you a ‘positive’ light of family, love and gentleness.  It shows that there can be some good, even if it’s hard to believe.

The direction follows the outline of a chronological perspective.  Each of the scenes that happen in the film is a retelling from someone that was associated with Whitey Bulger.  The film structure is:

Exposition from an a secondary character (usually an associate to Whitey Bulger) > Flashback to the start of the situations > pivotal moments happen > quick rethreading of secondary character’s thoughts/rhetorical question leading to next flashback.

Each of the acts plays off this common structure.  In each of the act, we get to see where Whitey Bulger is currently in his life; which then leads to some key event that changes his character.  This simplistic approach does amplify the predictable sense of what will happen.  It shows the basic ‘rise and fall’ concept of any traditional gangster movie.  That foreshadowing does (at times), cause some emotional buildup to stay cool, but it doesn’t hinder the overall intensity that is being built.  What it does is allow a general look at Whitey Bulger’s rise from street gang to Kingpin of all of Boston.  This simplistic approach, while it has it downfall (explained earlier), it does allow other aspects to standout.  That would be the slow burn of the story elements and the reliance of acting.  The story builds through a subtle approach.  With the usage of present exposition leading into flashbacks; it allows the setup to be very discrete and the actors to pull you into the story.  The acting being as amazing as it is; you become complete engross into the events being told on screen.  You watch certain motions take effect, as the intensity is built through atmosphere and conversational techniques.  The conversations that happen between Bulger and others in the film are some of the tensest scenes you will ever see.  What this does is bring to light that you don’t need action, visual allure or explosions to draw out intensity.  The full spectrum of emotions comes out from the grounded approach to acting, storytelling and situations.  We get to see the layering of each of the characters, seeing that in every facade of life there line between good and bad is hazy.  That concept breeds the allure of entrapment, leading to unhinged scenarios, strong personalities and shocking confrontations when the action does take place.  The simple assassination is amplified because of the realistic dark tone and steady pacing.  As the film builds through the first two acts, all comes to a boiling point in the third act.  Once we reach that critical mass; we get to see what causes his reign over Boston’s underground to a screeching halt.  Once you hit the climax, the solemn winding down approach is ironic and welcoming.  The ‘lack of’ intensity helps relieve the experience; while also giving you a chance at retrospective of understanding how a story like this could even take place.

The visuals of the film are amazing in its basic allure.  With the backdrop of South Boston; we get to see characters in a grounded setting.  This lets the backdrop become fused with the characters and story.  The exuding of this era is exemplified by this approach; seeing that personality is complimented by the visuals as much as the characters themselves.  The score is mutable at best.  The only thing worth noting is that it is a standard usage of a musical soundtrack found in most gangster films.

Black Mass is by far one of the best gangster films in years.  With an amazing leading actor (Johnny Depp), the slow building directional approach and intense situations built through characterization, this is a film that will impress on many levels.  If you’re a fan of gangster films, Depp or true stories, this is one for you.  You will not be disappointed with this film; Depp is back in form.

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