Scott Cooper has developed into a very intriguing filmmaker. After guiding Jeff Bridges to Oscar immortality with his 2009 directorial debut, Crazy Horse, Cooper then followed with the gripping, albeit flawed, drama, Out of the Furnace. Hence, cinephiles watched closely as news developed regarding Cooper's third major motion picture, Black Mass. And as details emerged and footage of leading star Johnny Depp began to surface, moviegoers everywhere awaited eagerly in hopes of watching Cooper take the next big step in his career. However, things don't always go according to plan.
On the mean streets of Southie in Boston during the 1970s, local Irish gangster, James "Whitey" Bulger (Depp), finds himself pitted against the Italian mob who have infiltrated the city's criminal underground. And when a loyal Southie native and FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), is ordered by his superiors to take down the Italian mob boss, Gennaro Angiulo, he reaches out to Bulger for assistance. While the feds dismantle Anguilo's crew, Bulger and his "Winter Hill Gang" become an unstoppable force throughout the entire city of Boston and beyond.
It's very difficult to pinpoint a specific tone for Scott Cooper's latest offering, Black Mass. The film lacks depth with its dramatic elements and paces along too aimlessly to sustain any true sense of action. In fact, Black Mass serves as nothing more than a highlight reel of Whitey Bulger's murderous repertoire. Instead of developing some form of moral conflict or complexity with its writing, the audience is forced to sit through scene after scene of Scott Cooper's glorification of violence. Make no mistake about it, the film caters solely to a visceral appeal and circumvents any attempt at telling a deeply layered story. Perhaps, notorious criminal mastermind "Whitey" Bulger is simply a cold-blooded and ruthless killer, nothing more. If so, then there's really no interesting story worth telling in a major motion picture setting. Leave that for the ID Channel or any of its other similar true crime programmers.
Despite all of the many issues surrounding Black Mass, Johnny Depp provides handfuls of memorable scenes that keep the film from utter disaster. This isn't the devoted actor's finest work, but his performance is still magnetic. Solid enough that it makes Cooper's painful journey down the mob movie checklist somewhat fathomable. An absence of originality and authenticity reveal Black Mass for what it truly is, a superficial one-man show that's as cold and lifeless as its main character.
Expectations undeniably carry a bias toward any movie experience and, admittedly, I was hoping for much more from Black Mass. Scott Cooper's first two films were on the fringe of something special but instead of propelling his career to another level, he takes a big step backwards with this latest effort. Character development through storytelling is such an integral part of any cinematic experience and, unfortunately, it's nowhere to be found here.