The next report card is for the story of Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly, entitled Black Mass.
Black Mass—directed by Scott Cooper; written by Mark Mallouk (screenplay), Jez Butterworth (screenplay), Dick Lehr (book) and Gerard O'Neill (book); starring Johnny Depp (James 'Whitey' Bulger), Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), Benedict Cumberbatch (Billy Bulger), Dakota Johnson (Lindsey Cyr), Peter Sarsgaard (Brian Halloran), Jesse Plemons (Kevin Weeks), Adam Scott (Robert Fitzpatrick) and Kevin Bacon (Charles McGuire).
This is a little weird, as it's an ensemble cast which really ends up being a one man show. Obviously, James Bulger is the main driving force of the film and is given the bulk of the characterization, but John Connolly's life is followed in the narrative as well, allowing both the mafia side of things and the FBI's perspective to all get a chance to play. There's also this weird dynamic where nobody seems like a good guy, but you also kind of root for everyone, too. Some characters obviously were more fleshed out than others, and I would have liked some more information on what happened with Dakota Johnson's Lindsey Cyr, a little more elaboration on Juno Temple's Deborah Hussey and some others, but I feel there was a good balance overall.
Despite how there were big names that popped up and I recognized here and there, only for a split second did I think to myself "oh hey, that's Benedict Cumberbatch" as opposed to thinking of these characters on screen as the actors themselves. Everyone pulled their weight and I can't really point out a single bad performance whatsoever.
Needless to say, the true star of the movie is Johnny Depp, and this is my favorite performance he's put on in years. He went into a rut where it seemed like all he was interested in portraying was effeminate and usually gothic Tim Burton characters and once you've seen Edward Scissorhands and Pirates of the Caribbean, you've already exhausted all avenues of that well, I feel. This was a change of pace where I felt like he was back to his roots of being a legitimate great actor, sinking his teeth in a role that was a little different and required a lot of effort. I would not be surprised whatsoever if he's nominated for an Academy Award.
VISUALS (FX, MAKEUP, COSTUMES, SETS): C–
Obviously, a movie like this doesn't have extensive special effects for action sequences or anything too elaborate as far as costumes and sets go, but that's not why I'm docking it some points. Honestly, I felt like the makeup used for Depp was distracting at points and seemed a little over the top and fake. Also, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the time periods. Over ten years goes by and I recall thinking to myself "wait, why does everything and everybody look exactly the same as they did in 1975?"
MUSIC & SOUND: C–
As I've stated in pretty much every edition of Making the Grade, I'm not the guy to be calling out sound design flaws and as such, I essentially think that something is a pass if I don't notice anything weird. For an example of a fail, check out Interstellar. However, I do feel underwhelmed with the overall audio. This movie struck me as the 2015 edition of GoodFellas or The Departed and both of those films have recognizable songs or a distinctive score. This doesn't. Nothing was offensive, but I can't tell you anything about the audio in any capacity outside of one of the songs used in the trailer, which of course doesn't have anything to do with the finished product of the film as a whole.
If you're into mobster movies and things like the two films I just mentioned above, you'll feel at home with Black Mass as it is just as heavy as those. There were scenes that were played for laughs and got some genuine chuckles out of me. There were deeply dramatic scenes that hooked me into the moment. Everything was treated in earnest and I got exactly the type of movie that I was expecting to get when I saw the trailers.
FINAL GRADE: B+
This was one of the better films that I've seen this year, overall. It's not absolutely perfect, but it delivered in every way I was expecting it to, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre. Strong performances and an intriguing story make this something that I endorse, even though I don't see myself ever necessarily watching it again as the running time felt a too little long to want to sit through again, even though I'm glad that nothing more was cut as that could have hurt the film.