MOVIE REVIEW: Black Mass (2015)

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Black Mass is triumphant in presenting yet another Johnny Depp persona–this time sans the misfires that could just continue to stereotype him for being unaware of what is beyond the fluorishes and costumes and funny accents. It has been a while since he is last seen play an actual human being. And so comes the opportunity for him to embody a character that suits him well even with the aid of prosthetics and wigs.

Fabled for his actions, Bulger is quite an interesting figure of his time that he has been the subject of a handful of movies including the Oscar-winning The Departed (2006) by Martin Scorsese. Adapted from the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neil, Black Mass is angled in a more human perspective while maintaining Bulger’s grim behavior that is as the movie tells “strictly criminal.”

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Black Mass looks into the life of Bulger from being a small-time hood to plying Boston streets as a notorious crime lord thanks to his unholy alliance with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Through the help of FBI agent John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton), Bulger becomes an informant against the Italian mob, their mutual enemy.

Boasting a great number of good actors, Black Mass is able to gather a strong and riveting ensemble. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Billy Bulger, Whitey’s influential politician bother who works as a state senator. Rory Cochrane dons the role of Bulger’s partner in crime with a drive of testosterone and fragility. Although with minimal exposure, Kevin Bacon exudes as the FBI agent in charge of their operation. Not to mention, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll and others are all up to throwing their share of vigor. Also notable are the female characters in Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson who play wives in a few heartfelt scenes.

For a biopic to work with top-notch wonders, its production design has to stay true to its period in so that the picture in its entirety can be looked at by the believing eyes. The authenticity of the sets and the costumes in Black Mass makes it possible for the eyes not just to believe but also to realize that these things can function on their own, with walls that speak even in the midst of the quiet of the sets as well as costume designs that are meticulously chosen for the portrayals. What comes to mind are Goodfellas and the Godfather movies well-received for their atmospheric brilliance.

Altogether, these visual elements make it easier for the cinematography to follow almost seamlessly, with ominous orchestral scoring that adds up to the 1970’s feel which yet again speaks words that the minds of the attentive would better understand. Gritty and full of pangs, Black Mass assures a compelling and sturdy flow where one should take the affecting story for all its worth.

Johnny Depp’s best performance for years is something that cannot be taken for granted for his sheer sincerity to the craft and Cooper’s determination to bring it back to business. Black Mass seems to be meticulously handpicked and developed for Depp. Granted this, the audiences around the world rightfully deserve to see this move since he is more than just your silly pirate.

BLACK MASS (2015, US)
Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson

Directed by Scott Cooper
Written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk
Based on the 2001 book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

Black Mass movie poster

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