Friday, September 25, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: "Black Mass" (2015)

Black Mass 
Cross Creek Pictures 
RatPac-Dune Entertainment

I'd been riveted by online
trailers and in-theater
previews all summer.
And earlier this week,
the day finally arrived.
"One senior's ticket for
Black Mass, please."

The real life story of Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger has been well-documented over the years hence, spoilers already abound. Still, experiencing Black Mass (director Scott Cooper's film adaptation of the 2001 John Lehr and Gerard O'Neill book) playing out across the silver screen remained suspense-filled, indeed.

Starring Johnny Depp in the riveting lead role as Bulger, the story takes place primarily in South Boston (Southie) during the early 70s through the mid 80s. Joel Edgerton (The Gift) delivers his second praise-worthy performance of the summer as John Connolly, Bulger's childhood friend and now FBI agent. Following a rather unlikely and dubious "alliance" between Bulger and Connolly, the "fortunes" of both men flourish for nearly a decade — yet by 1985, their scandalous schemes and criminal activities are revealed and justice (sorta) prevails.

Depp is sensational as Whitey Bulger.
Benedict Cumberbatch offers a compelling performance as Whitey Bulger's brother, Massachusetts senator William M. "Billy" Bulger, while Kevin Bacon is quite convincing as Connolly's boss, Charles McGuire.

There are really no likable male characters anywhere in the story, as nearly all of them have a certain amount of "dirt" on their hands — even the few "good guys" seem rather slimey. Conversely, it's the female characters; Julianne Nicholson as Marianne Connolly, Dakota Johnson as Lindsey Cry and Juno Temple as Deborah Hussey that are the most the endearing.

Nicholson and Edgerton deliver superb
performances in Black Mass.
Despite the suspense, despite the tension, despite the array of excellent performances from a stellar cast, Black Mass does have one substantial shortcoming — it's a horrible story. For more than two hours, the audience is subjected to pure evil — murder after brutal murder and endless other acts of despicable behavior. What's so wrong with that? It's just a movie, right? Well, for one thing, as the central character, I believe that some might actually find themselves rooting for the bad guy. OH NO — run Whitey, run — before those aweful cops catch ya! Now, if you honestly possess the ability to disconnect — to filter out the darkness and merely harness the sketchy entertainment factor, Black Mass is well worth the price of admission. However, as a show biz-type guy with a high tolerance for "culture," even I felt compelled to rush home for a good old fashioned soul shower, immediately following the closing credits. 

-Christopher Long
(September 2015)

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