By Ross Lelieur
Senior Staff Writer
Black Mass is amongst the first of the grittier fall and winter films. Its thematic elements and style are a far cry from what audiences have become used to over the past few months. Black Mass performs well when taken as a refresher from the quality-parched summer months. However, as an early contender for the awards season, the film falls short, delivering on quality filmmaking but lacking in innovation or closure.
Black Mass is a dramatization of the life of James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), a South Boston crime lord who forms an alliance with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The story follows Whitey as he eliminates loose ends, expands his enterprise, and plays the FBI, as John Connolly turns a blind eye to Whitey’s activities in order to gain enough intelligence to take down the Italian Mafia. On the positive side, Black Mass is excellently executed. Its cinematography and editing are performed with style, but the quality of its writing is ultimately what enraptures audiences. Woven throughout the film is a dramatic juxtaposition of Whitey’s psychopathic murders and brutal violence, and the tender care and affection he shows toward his elderly mother and young son. Connolly is also written well, with his motivations blurred into a murky blend of loyalty to his roots, a sense of justice, and a lust for fame.
Depp himself deserves commendation for returning to more complex roles, after an extended stint as a whimsical pirate and an unemotional AI. Bulger is a psychopath driven by a desire to succeed at all cost, a persona difficult enough to impersonate. Depp has the additional burden of truly unnerving and intimidating the audience, a task he pulls off with great success.
However, Black Mass is not extraordinary. Its story, which is forced to stay close to actual events, is necessarily wandering. It is defined by Whitey’s sequential murders, without any overall goal or story arc. As such, the movie ends without a sense of finality, as if little actually occurred within its runtime.
Black Mass’ quality writing and excellent acting contribute to an overall positive impression of the film, although its genre necessitates a somewhat dull storyline. Still, as a spearhead for the more impressive films sure to follow later in the fall and winter season, Black Mass serves its purpose well.