A slow and plotless drag of a film that lacks any form of character development or any detailed plot line. Depp is average in a role that feels as if it was written for someone without his talents.
Six years ago a Johnny Depp crime drama, Public Enemies, captured my interest in the versatile character actor. Formerly his roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Secret Window, and Pirates of the Caribbean cemented Depp as one of the most enthralling and dedicated Hollywood actors.
Depp’s latest crime drama, Black Mass, doesn’t touch the dizzying heights Depp has reached within his career. It merely scratched the surface on what could have been a thrilling take on the story of Boston crime-lord James “Whitey” Bulger. Instead the film feels overly long (even though it is less than two-hours), drawn out, and lifeless. The lack of character formation means that the film features no emotional pull in its violent death sequences and the whole plot feels undermined as we don’t really know any of Bulger’s gang.
The most inciting part of the film for me is the religious themes drawn both through its title – Black Mass – and the scenes which portray Bulger within churches. While these scenes are merely symbolic to the plot, I believe the title serves as highlighting the ‘black mass’ Bulger created in Boston, cementing himself as a crime pseudo-God that his gang served to please as the witches who were said to have participated in black masses in the Middle Ages aimed to do to please the Devil. This also leads to my interpretation of an unholy alliance formed between Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Bulger throughout the film converts good men into corrupt beings as if the Devil has possessed them to replicate within his image.
If this was the intention of the film, and not just my over elaborate explanation of the films motifs, then the chance was missed to create a memorable crime thriller. Director Scott Cooper could really have worked harder to demonstrate this and paint Bulger as the crime boss he was. Instead his empire is never shown, his influence only touched upon, and his crimes look petty in comparison to other crime thrillers.
Edgerton’s performance as FBI agent John Connolly is solid. Connolly’s development is notable within the film yet underplayed. Edgerton does his best to highlight the agent’s own quest for power and his character change is clear throughout the film. A good supporting role.
Another notable positive of the film is the beautiful cinematography. The picture looked amazing on screen and the art direction was first class. Depp looked incredible in character and his henchmen played their parts well too – fitting in to the early 80’s crime scene.
While there are some notable positives of the film, it ended up being a disappointing flick that failed to portray any memorable plot points and grip the audience. Its weak story felt like a missed opportunity on what could have been a thrilling retelling of the life of an emphatic and infamous modern crime boss.