Cine Reviews: Black Mass (2015)

In ‘Black Mass’ Johnny Depp takes on the role of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, who forms an unholy alliance with the FBI.

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Black Mass saw the comeback of Johnny Depp into “normal” roles, and in the film he proves that statement with sincerity. Black Mass is based on the life of James “Whitey” Bulger, a then small-time hoodlum who eventually blows up in the following years to come. It could’ve been your ordinary gangster movie, but thankfully it attempted to try something new. The film’s entire tone is so dark and serious, making things look even more realistic than it already is. It makes Boston look like a seriously gloomy place where anybody could get killed anytime, and the people whom the actors depict just amplify that fact. From the moment the film’s title pops up onscreen during the beginning, you can already tell that this won’t be a wickedly fun gangster flick where you get to delight with its’ violence. But I’m not saying that is dull nor bland, because Black Mass was a darkly pleasant viewing experience and to be honest, it was showed something different from what I’ve seen in other mob films. It was highly consistent with its’ dark tone, look, and feel which allowed it to become unique. The film attempted to never have a moment that is “lightweight” but it all deemed to be effective. Even if it had moments with Whitey Bulger reflecting back, they weren’t sentimental but rather filled with anger and hatred. That is what makes his character distinctive. The representation of Whitey Bulger could’ve made him out to be a relentless killing machine, but the screenplay dared to tell his story in a refreshing manner through the use of his sorrow. In other mob flicks, the gangster uses ambition as their motivation. But Black Mass tends to be different with the timeless tale of a man’s power, his rise, and his downfall. The screenplay used Whitey’s despair as his driving force to achieve his dark desires, making us feel for him even if he is branded as notorious. This aspect made us look at Whitey through different facets as each shows a different side of him. There is a particular scene where he loses a loved one, and instead of coping by welling up tears, he exhibits anger and pain. This moment results into one of the film’s best scenes, for it shows Whitey’s slow manifestation of being a full-blown gangster due to that loss. But even if Black Mass gave us a somewhat unique depiction of a real-life gangster, the story somewhat tends to go in circles and sadly, it never even attempted to go to a different direction. Sadly, it never tried to dig deeper into its’ rich source material. To simply phrase it, there was very little juice in the story. That makes Black Mass less better than it is, it decidedly gives us less which tends to make it less better than it is. I expected so much more and to be more blunt, I was disappointed. I left the theater in joy when I reminisced my enjoyment of Depp as Whitey, but my mood immediately switched through the realization that I am still dismayed.

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The characters or people rather, in Black Mass are not the ones you would want to get along with. Most of them aren’t trustworthy, and some are just seemingly vicious. If there is one thing that the film got right aside from its’ depiction of Whitey Bulger, it has got to be the characters. They aren’t lovable in any kind of way, but they are entertaining to watch even if they are cold-blooded and stone-faced. Their interaction with one another make terrific moments in the film, most specifically any scene involving Depp’s Whitey and Edgerton’s Conolly. With that, these two probably became the film’s best part. Depp’s performance as Whitey Bulger was fantastic. It seemed like the Johnny Depp I saw here was the one I’ve been wanting to see for so long, since every recent film of his has been criticized for his ludicrous acting. In Black Mass, his portrayal was just too ridiculously perfect. I honestly think that nobody could’ve done it better than Depp. His intimidating demeanor gives you that certain amount of fear, and that is what I witnessed in the film. Every time a character is talking, standing, or sitting beside him, he/she is always unsettled just thinking of the fact that Whitey could end their life anytime. Moreover, there are several scenes in the film that showcase that, and it made said scenes even more unnerving. Specifically one scene which got me squirming in my seat, and just turning into stone due to its’ disturbing imagery. Aside from that, Depp giving his character dark humor just makes things better than it already is. It’s like if you were engaged in any conversation and he makes a joke, you might be confused whether you should laugh or tremble in fear. Joel Edgerton’s Conolly is absolutely the ideal partner of Whitey Bulger in the sense that he chooses Whitey as his right-hand man and as their relationship grows, we buy more into the two’s seeming friendship. Up to the extent that he gets influenced by Whitey. Despite the fact that the story presents Bulger to be the devil, from what I saw I could conclude that both Whitey and Conolly are one and equal. Black Mass has so many characters just like any gangster movie does but, it seems like it doesn’t know what to do with them. There are so many interesting people who I wish they’d have explored even more, but it decided to exclusively pay attention to Whitey and Conolly. Thus, it lacks development from its’ secondary characters, and results into one of the film’s many flaws.

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Black Mass may not have been the next big gangster flick, but it is still solidly entertaining if not for the lack of character development and the hesitance of giving more than what we got. Regarding the plot that department could’ve been improved even more, but it decided not to. That makes the film underwhelming and might leave you in dismay.

3.5/5 stars

Black Mass is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide and is distributed by Warner Bros. (Philippines)
Rated R-16 by the MTRCB.

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