Black Mass Review

“… entertaining, engaging, and deeply interesting…”

I had wanted to see Black Mass for a long while, but for some reason I kept putting it off. I think the problem was that I ignorantly sold the movie short before even seeing it, but for what reason I’m not entirely sure. Either way, Black Mass is about James “Whitey” Bulger, a criminal kingpin in 1970’s Boston. When Bulger is approached by FBI agent John Connolly, a childhood friend of his, he agrees to provide information on his enemies (“…it’s not snitching if the people you are snitching on deserve to be brought down”) in return for him getting pretty much free-reign of Boston. Black Mass essentially chronicles this relationship that Bulger had with the FBI, and how everything eventually collapsed like the house of cards that it was.

Right off the bat Black Mass was able to surprise me with its stellar makeup. The film starts with a shot of Jesse Plemons and he is absolutely unrecognizable. Well, unrecognizable isn’t true because I just admitted that I recognized him, but the makeup was good enough that it took about 5 minutes of going “Is that him?” “No, that can’t be him” until I finally realized that it was, in fact, him. This makeup only gets better as we are introduced to the other characters, especially James Bulger himself. The way that Johnny Depp was transformed into this character is absolutely astounding. Much like Plemons, Depp was almost unrecognizable in the role of Bulger. What I also like about Depp’s makeup in the film is how menacing he looks just by standing there. His ridiculously pale skin contrasting with  his unnaturally blue eyes is unsettling to look at. And his eyes themselves are amazing to behold. The combination of bright blue eye colour which makes his eyes appear very large, with the way that he is always squinting making his eyes appear small is absolutely terrifying to look at. He looks almost like a humanoid snake, and this perfectly goes along with his character as well. Of course the makeup is only half of the characters, because the other half has to be sold in the performances; this is where I got my second surprise from Black Mass. While watching Black Mass, I was taken aback at just how many stars are in this film. Usually you have one or two ‘big’ actors, and the rest are ‘filler’, but this film kept pulling out bigger and bigger actors. My actual surprise came when each and every actor that was on screen (even the ‘filler’ ones) gave amazing performances. I’m not familiar with James Bulger, or any other characters from this story, but what sold me on everyones performances was that fact that they felt real. Nobody was over the top (unless it called for it), and everyone had this emotional undertone that evolved as the film went on. If anything I would say that almost everyone was refined in their performances which only enhanced the immersion in the film. In real life people don’t dance about onscreen and use their entire bodies to convert how they feel, they usually show subtle cues with body language or language itself and that was what Black Mass did so well. This surprise really had two facets, because I was also surprised to see that Johnny Depp has still got it! Let’s face it, Depp has been in a bit of slump for the past little while so this role was the perfect opportunity for him. Now we know that he can still deliver a wonderful performance that isn’t ripped straight from a Tim Burton film.

I also really enjoyed how Black Mass accomplished a constant feeling of dread throughout the film; one of the main contributing factors was the score. The score in Black Mass, much like the film itself, is like an homage to classic film. Now I’m not making any comparison between films of today and films of the past, I’m just saying that the score really fit the tone well. Black Mass’ score is comprised mainly of orchestral music, but what makes it special is the fact that it never throws itself into the spotlight. Most of the time you have to strain your ears to even hear it, but when you do you realize that it is probably the best possible scoring that this film could have received. Like I said the music is very refined, almost afraid to make itself known, but the feeling that it conveys works absolutely beautifully with what we are seeing onscreen. The sweeping, and yet often times imposing, music is an absolute joy to listen to and it compliments the movie so well. The other thing I noticed when watching Black Mass was the great camerawork. First of all, Black Mass is not afraid to get real close with the camera; as a matter of fact the very first scene is one that is essentially the frame taken up by just one actors face. This may get annoying in theory, but watching it proves that it is a very effective tool that Black Mass uses well. During these extreme closeup shots I felt very connected to the character, but there was also this sense of fear because nothing but the character was visible. Black Mass isn’t a horror film, but you learn quickly to always expect the unexpected. Luckily the film didn’t get out of hand on that front, but the fear was there nonetheless. Black Mass also featured quite a few inventive shots that took my breath away. One that comes to mind is a shot looking through the back window of a car. In the car you can see four men who are passing guns around, and instantly you know what to expect. The film doesn’t rub your face in it, but you know instantly that the film is about to take a dark turn. The shot was was effective and beautiful, but the best part is that it wasn’t the only one. Black Mass is filled with shots that are immensely clever, and each and every one of them help with the already gripping story.

Black Mass is a movie that entertained my thoroughly throughout its runtime. With wonderful performances from a star-studded cast, amazing makeup, a wonderful score, brilliant camerawork, and a story that is entertaining, engaging, and deeply interesting it’s a wonder why I didn’t watch this film sooner.

I give Black Mass an A

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