HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Black Mass
HTS Overall Score:79
While James “Whitey” Bulger isn’t as well-known as Al Capone, or some of the more romanticized gangsters in American history, he is still one of the biggest and nastiest the U.S. has ever seen. Whitey Bulger was well known in Southern Boston for DECADES as one of the most brutal crime lords to take over after the Italian mafia lost their hold on the city. Disgusting, terrifying and most definitely cruel, Bulger’s stranglehold on the city was absolute thanks to the bungling of the FBI and the criminal enterprises of a few FBI agents (at least that’s the information we’re privy to). “Black Mass” is the retelling of this tale, and some definite embellishments have been added to the story for literary purposes for sure. A bit blocky and bulky at times, the story is mired down by a complete lack of sympathy for the characters as well as being completely humorous. As a result it feels unwieldy and paint by the numbers compared to many other popular gangster films.
Whitey Bulger was a gangster long before 1975, but the film picks up right when Bulger is coming into his own as a big time crook. He’d been a small time criminal for years, lapping up the crumbs from the likes of the local Italian Mafia crime family, but now he’s making a play for the big time. Pushing back hard against his opposition, Whitey is only betrayed by his gang’s lack of strength. This lack is made up for big time when his childhood friend turned FBI Agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) gives him the opportunity of a lifetime. Inform on the Italian Mafia for the FBI and in return the FBI will turn a blind eye to his exploits. Realizing that this is a fantastic business opportunity, Whitey agrees. Soon he’s paying off FBI agents and other informants on the streets to funnel information to the Feds while he’s given free rein to take over Boston.
This whole hullaballoo is bound to go south sooner or later, and when it does no one is making it out unscathed. Whitey’s big brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), is state senator at the moment, and the FBI starts getting nervous as his younger brother is running around Boston with impunity. Soon the head brass start putting the squeeze on Connolly’s superiors (played by Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott), which causes the noose to start tightening around the instigators of this unholy alliance. Bulger is, of course, the last to see it coming. Thinking himself invincible and king of the castle, he threatens and cajoles only to watch as Connolly and his conspirators go down around him, as well as the remnants of his gang swept up for questioning. Much like real life, Bulger turns tail and runs as far away as possible while the feds try and clean up the mess.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=67049[/img]“Black Mass” supposedly plays a little bit with the actual events of what happened between the FBI and the infamous gangster, but it captures the essence of it. Bulger was captured in 2011 after being on the run for almost 20 years, and he now states that he only bought off FBI personnel to look the other way, but evidence has proven years ago that there was more than just a little bit of collusion with the feds in a deal that just went sideways. In fact by all accounts the Boston division of the FBI was HEAVILY involved with protecting Whitey Bulger during his rise to power in hopes that they could control him. Here they make it seem like it was some black books operation that was Connolly’s fault for. It’s actually sad that Connolly got 40 years in prison while Bulger’s right hand man, Kevin Weeks (played by Jesse Plemons) got 5 years, and his own personal hitman got 12 years.
All historical innacuraices aside, “Black Mass” is a pretty entertaining story. It’s mostly a by the books type of film, with all of the standard tropes for a gangster film. Including the rise and fall of the big boy in question. The real problem with the film stems from the fact that they film had nothing in the way of anchoring you to the character in question. We all know that crime is bad, and that gangsters are no joke, but movies like “Goodfellas” and “Scarface” or “Casino” all bond the character to you by creating a humanizing element that allows the audience to almost enjoy the character and admire his/her exploits. You didn’t like Scarface himself because of shot people or did coke, you liked his character because his rise and fall was plausible and semi humorous in some way. Same with most great gangster films. Johnny Depp did an incredible job losing himself into the character of Bulger, but the dilemma was that you didn’t like ANYTHING about him. He was unredeemable in every possible way. When all is said and done when you have a completely unlikeable character without any redeeming qualities, you have a hard time really feeling any sympathy for him, or caring about his plight. Sadly this is the main flaw of the film and a hard one to overcome.
Rated R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=67057[/img]“Black Mass” is one of the few films shot these days on ACTUAL film stock. Shot on film it was then transferred to a digital intermediary where it was finished up and polished with color grading and the like. As a result the image is crystal clear and the grain structure is so tight and clean that it’s nearly imperceptible. Colors are heavily muted and kept with a gold and teal balance that gives the film a very “70’s” look (or at least the image we construe as being part of the 70’s). blacks are well done and detail is razor sharp at all times. Sometimes you can see the lines where Johnny Depp’s fake receding hairline meets his actual skin as well as the fake “puffiness” given to Kevin Week’s actor.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=67065[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a fairly mild track, and except for a few spots of explosive action and heavy bass the experience is very mild and downplayed. Vocals are crisp and clear, balanced well with the simplistic sounds of the Boston Winter Hill gang, and surrounds are given some solid ambient usage. There’s a few scenes, like the club scene, where the LFE pounds away hard and heavy, or a few moments of explosive gunplay, but by and large this is a very laid back track. Gunshots are rather realistic sounding, giving us a solid “pop” instead of the explosive howitzer cannon level for each shot fired (something which annoys the gun snob in my as much as I love the rocking action experience).
• "Black Mass": Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime
• The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger
• Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger
“Black Mass” is a solid entry into the gangster universe, but sadly is hampered by unlikeable characters and a meandering plot that just doesn’t have that addictive pull that so many other superior gangster flicks have. Depp envelopes himself in the role in way that really made me tip my hat off to him, but the rest of the movie is just paint by the numbers. The audio is solid and the video is fantastic. However I was really surprised with so many movies coming with lackluster extras that the special features were VERY engrossing and detailed. There may be only 3 line items for the extras, but they are very detailed and one of them especially is VERY in depth. Recommended for a solid rental.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Main Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese DD 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 124 minutes
Own Black Mass on Blu-ray Combo Pack or DVD on February 16 or Own It Early on Digital HD on January 12
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