‘Black Mass’: Review

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I really want to like Scott Cooper and I totally feel that I should, but time and time again he just never lives up to the bar I expect him to hit. I really enjoyed Crazy Heart, mainly for the performance from Jeff Bridges where he won his deserving Oscar, but outside of that the direction wasn’t anything to write home about and the story itself was pretty conventional and paled in comparison to The Wrestler from the previous year which had very similar subject matter albeit with a wrestler instead of a country singer. I was beyond excited for Out Of The Furnace, a backwoods gangstery film starring Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Forest Whitaker? Holy shit, take all my money. I saw it in theatres, like I did Crazy Heart, and I was supremely disappointed. It was outwardly bad, but it just never exceeds to the level that all this talent usually demands, and just turns exceedingly anticlimactic. I think you can see where this is heading, again blindly enamored with Scott Cooper for some reason and the talent and subject matter of Black Mass, I was very much looking forward to it, only to see it fail to please like it should’ve with all these positives like his past films, and just wallow in “eh, it was fine.”

Johnny Depp is obviously the big story here, with the whole “he’s back to being in good/serious movies and not Tim Burton schlock” and I mean yeah, it’s true, I guess, but his over-the-top make-upped portrayal of Whitey Bulger isn’t really all that different from the wacko characters he’s been busting out for the last decade, the thing is this time it’s just an actual “historical” figure grounded in a semblance of reality. This is still Johnny Depp slathered in make-up and a wig and him putting on a show of this character, don’t get me wrong, he’s really good, although an Oscar win lock I’m very wary, but this is still the Johnny Depp you simultaneously love and hate.

Joel Edgerton’s character might’ve been my biggest problem, and I’m still not sure whether it was the performance or the acting. I do enjoy the concept of a relatively straight-laced FBI agent suffering his downfall when he gets so close to a gangster that he enjoys the fruits of that relationship a bit to much for his job and relationship. It’s a quintessential gangster flick story and mode, and it works, but I’m not sure it fully works. Working off that, the film, seems like an amalgamation of a lot of what made other good gangster films work, but didn’t here. The flashback/flashforward of Bulger associates telling their story to frame the story doesn’t do much and loses a lot of the tension and mystery as to what happens to these characters. They also literally do their own version of the Goodfellas “Funny How?” scene which I was astonished they would copy something cemented so much in film history so straightly and like they were the first movie to ever do it. Suffice to say it doesn’t work at all. We get it, character building.

Ultimately, it’s a decent film, but given all the players and subject matter this should’ve been something great, and had all the pieces to, it just was never assembled correctly. It’s probably Scott Cooper’s most accomplished directing and he certainly does a great job of establishing tone and giving the film a “lived in” vibe that feels like you’re there. And thus I’m looking forward to the next Scott Cooper film, because I believe there’s a classic just waiting inside of him. I crave for the pieces to align.

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