This one was a request from a coworker and is a few days later than I wanted, but I promised a review. The other reason it’s late is I had a bad experience at the movies and didn’t want to let my bias from the experience affect the review. This gave me time to really think on how I feel about the film and make recommendations with some time away from it.
So should you attend the Mass?
As we start this, you understand from my history this is not my preferred genre. I like good drama’s and the occasional “based on real events” films. I firmly believe there is a gap in time that should occur to let a film begin to fade from collective memory a bit and help us remember bits of our history we may not know as well. Films like Captain Phillips, The 33, and the upcoming film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are too new, too recent for my tastes. This hits the right bridge of time away, but with individuals who are in recent(-ish) headlines.
The movie here focuses on that of James “Whitey” Bulger, leader of a small criminal empire, and his relationship with FBI agent John Connolly. Much of the film focuses on the relationships between Bulgers inner circle of the Winter Hill Gang and the interactions Connolly had with them and his own with the FBI itself.
It’s worth mentioning here that acting is amazing in this. Depp is back in form again and I want more of this man in movies. While Jack Sparrow probably allowed him to buy another island, it’s not why we learned to love him. The fact that he can become most anyone is. I lost Depp in this performance and saw the man he was playing and want more of this. Joel Edgerton has had a lot of high profile work and this probably for me is one of his strongest performances. Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, Exodus, show a growing penchant for him as a heavy, despite earlier performances in such movies as The Thing and King Arthur. He is a solid actor who actually showed an interesting range in the film. The other stars, such as Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochran, Adam Scott, all do really well and craft whole people; which is good since they are portraying real people. That isn’t always the case in a performance, but thankfully was here. Benedict Cumberbatch does a passable job at a New England accent but not quite, but that could be argued as someone trying to fake a New England accent over a Southie accent, and in this case over his natural accent.
The screenplay for the movie comes from two men, Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. Butterworth is one who was responsible for the beauty of Edge of Tomorrow and will be on the hook for Spectre later this year. This is Mallouks first writing gig. As the film is based on a book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, I am not sure where to place some of the blame in dialogue. There are just some parts that are too ridiculous to believe anyone would buy, too tropish to be real and that took me out. Also, I am pretty sure the F-bomb is not actually punctuation, the movie disagrees with me to a level that would leave The Boondock Saints in awe.
Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnance) loves himself the close up. While not as bad as Maggie for having the camera in his actors face there are a lot of scenes where the actor uses well over 75% of the screen space with their noggin. It’s a technique that can work, but doesn’t always. Also, the timing of cuts, beats, and overall pacing of the film drags a bit to the long side. I wasn’t expecting the Departed when it comes to action, but I wanted the pacing just a bit tighter. Also I would be left to believe things only happened every 10 years if the movie was my only guide.
Black Mass is a solidly acted film that I can highly recommend to anyone who enjoys the era of the Modern Mafia. If you love stories in, about, or related to Boston this is a must see. The city doesn’t live and breathe here as it’s own character despite their attempts, but you know where you are. The movie can be compared to one of my more favorite films of this type of genre Citizen X.
If you aren’t a fan of this type of film, you won’t miss anything. Even the curious could give this a pass. Save it for the genre lovers.