Black Mass Review

Black Mass
  • Directing7
  • Writing6.5
  • Acting8

Scott Cooper's Black Mass is a cold and heartless mobster flick, starring Johnny Depp in his most ruthless performance yet. The film is performance-driven and sluggish at times, but Cooper's steadfast direction keeps the film on track, although it does feel a tad bland and cliched.


Director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) switches gears drastically as he directs Johnny Depp in his most cold and creepy performance yet in Black Mass — based on the real-life stories of the notorious Whitey Bulger. Black Mass isn’t quite the next memorable mobster flick, but it does come packed with a wide variety of performances that range from impressive to over-the-top and bland. Luckily Cooper keeps the film moving, despite its procedural structure and lack of surprises.

James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) is one of the most notorious gangsters in American history and Black Mass tells his tale during the rise and fall of Bulger’s controversial success as the Kingpin of South Boston.

Whitey Bulger is an interesting character and one worthy of a far more extensive documentary. Something like Black Mass could never do the man any real justice, because he’s just such an interesting and scarily powerful figure in American mobster history.

Scott Cooper‘s film focuses on Whitey’s connection with the F.B.I and the eventual downfall of those around him, detailing the grizzled deaths and constant corruption along the way.

Depp anchors the film as the strange and unsettling Bulger, doing a splendid job not only looking and talking like Bulger, but going the extra step and truly embodying the man in a way that’s considered restrained for Depp, but eye-opening for those that don’t know much about the mobster.

Depp’s teeth are ugly, his forehead is a mile long and his beady eyes stare at you in a way that never lets up. It’s downright creepy watching Depp laugh and portray Bulger. It’s a refreshing surprise that reminds us that Depp isn’t just about playing someone silly and fun for the kids.

The only real problem with Depp’s performance comes from the lack of material, which can be accredited to the film’s hardly confrontational script and Scott Cooper‘s oddly straight-forward direction.

Scott generally gives his films a indie-folk-like vibe that can be more seen in Out of the Furnace than Crazy Heart, yet Black Mass feels like the most mainstream studio film that he’s ever done.

The film is technically sound, but a tad bland and lacking that usual guilty energy that can be found in gangster films. At not one point do you glamorize or even sympathize with Bulger or any of his close friends and it’s a disconnecting feeling that puts a constant five feet between the audience members and the film’s characters.

Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson and many others have supporting roles in the film, but none of them really add up to anything whole or complete. Everybody simply seems like they’re catering to Depp’s character in one way or another, which is kind of how it was back then when everybody feared Bulger as if he was God.

It’s just distracting not really caring much about any of the characters or the film’s progression, aside from being somewhat interested in what Bulger is going to do next or who he’s going to kill.

It’s a morbid feeling that can’t be shaken and that pretty much sums up the effectiveness of Black Mass. Cooper doesn’t quite make something memorable, but he does give us lots and lots of great Johnny Depp moments that are scene-stealing around every corner.

Those expecting something on the level of a Martin Scorsese gangster film are going to be severely disappointed, because while Cooper holds his own in the sub-genre, Black Mass just doesn’t hold the cards long enough for anything to pay off in a big and meaningful way.

It’s an interesting look at Whitey Bulger — one that highlights his mean streak of violence and reminds us how lucky we are for not personally knowing the man, but the film’s lack of wanting to explore Bulger any deeper keeps things on the surface for most of the running time.

Johnny Depp gives a solid and bizarrely enjoyable performance that is a must-see, while the rest of the stacked cast ranges from trying too hard or not giving a shit. Why did Cooper bother casting such stars if he had absolutely no plans on using them?

Black Mass is the type of film that will draw in audiences because of the endless list of names on the poster, but the only one that really matters is Depp and thankfully he does a great job carrying the film. Scott Cooper‘s sudden direction style change is alarming and somewhat saddening, because Black Mass could’ve been something truly special and not just another well-made, but been-there-done-that gangster film that will get lost in the shuffle once it’s put on a shelf and compared to the classics. It’s good, just not as great as it should’ve been.

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