Blockbluster: Black Mass
Quick Summary: The true story of the notorious Whitey Bulger, a violent gangster and FBI informant.
Genre: Biography / Crime / Drama
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll.
Length: 122 min
Release Date: 2015-09-18 (US), 2015-11-27 (UK)
More Info: IMDb
Black Mass - Official Trailer (Minor Spoilers)
I love gangster movies. I fuckin' love 'em. They're my favorite type of movie. So not surprisingly I was pretty excited to see this. A biopic about one of the most notorious gangsters in US history? A guy who's life sounds like a fucking gangster film? Just give his Wikipedia page a read if you want to see what I'm talking about. Add in a strong cast and it sounds like a recipe for a great film. It didn't quite live up to that, but it was still very enjoyable.
So let's talk about Whitey some, more specifically the points of his life that this movie focuses on. It tells us about his exploits as a gangster, and his rise in power. Pretty typical storyline there, but it's still a fun one. More uniquely it also focuses on Bulger serving as an informant to the FBI. He feeds the FBI information on other gangs, and in return he gets protection. Johnny Depp plays Bulger in the film, and he turns in a strong performance as the man.
Another centerpiece of the film is John Connolly, the FBI agent who recruits Bulger into informing. Joel Edgerton plays Connolly in the film, and he likewise offers up a strong performance. His partnership with Bulger, and the corruption in the FBI related to that, allowed Bulger to operate the way he did. Had the FBI not been complicit in aiding him, he never would've been able to become as powerful as he did.
For all the movie's strengths, it does have some missteps. For one thing, the movie oftentimes feels too similar to Goodfellas in its narrative structure. This is notable from the opening scene of the movie. Don't get me wrong, Goodfellas is a classic, and it's one of my favourite movies ever, however I don't want to just watch Goodfellas 2.0: Whitey Bulger (plus this movie isn't nearly on the same level).
Secondly, the movie ends rather abruptly, and it feels as if they could've done just a bit more to wind down the film. Another few minutes tying things up. Similarly, the movie feels as if it leaves a lot of the story untold. While what is shown is interesting, I wish the movie told more of the story, and there's certainly material enough to easily do so. It's a movie that could've been 3 hours long and still would've kept me entertained the whole way through.
On a minor note, despite the movie taking place over roughly 30 years, the characters never seem to age at all. It's as if the entire cast is stuck in a time warp. It's not a major issue, but it's a shortcoming nonetheless.
Additionally, the trailer makes the movie seem as if it has a lot more action in it than it does. The movie isn't in any way an action film, and really the only scene in the movie that could be described as such is shown in the trailer, which is a bit misleading (though it is a good scene). That's not so much a criticism of the movie as it is of the trailer, but it's good to know going in so that the movie-viewing experience isn't tainted by false expectations.
Being a biopic, the movie of course is going to draw questions of how accurate it is to reality. I haven't nearly enough familiarity with the events in question to offer much comment, but from doing a little bit of googling it seems that its veracity is shaky at times. I stumbled across an interview with one of Bulger's associates featured in the movie (Kevin Weeks, played by Jesse Plemons), and he criticizes the accuracy of the movie quite a bit. I recommend reading the interview, as it's pretty interesting.
Despite some shortcomings, Black Mass still remains a very entertaining movie about an infamous US gangster. It's definitely a film worth the time of anyone who's interested in the story of Whitey Bulger, or even just gangster movies in general.
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