The other night I was fishing through some DVDs at the local library. I knew Black Panther was available because I’d checked through the TPL website. So going for the FEATURE BLA section I happened to notice this film, Black Mass.
I would have never known about this picture but Black Panther and Black Mass were sitting side by side on the shelf.
Before I say anything, let me clarify that this movie is not about satanic rituals, pentagrams, and all that jazz.
Karen Black – remember her? – does not appear.
No, this is not a horror or religious studies movie but rather a flick about organized crime where the “Mass” stands for the US state of Massachusetts. The action takes place in Boston but the story reminds me of a TV series called Brotherhood, set at nearby Rhode Island.
I generally like crime and espionage films if they are done well. It’s ironic because I used to tease my poor Dad for reading international crime and spy novels, thinking they were just trashy pulp fiction.
But as I grow older and sense the often hypocritical nature of media spin, I have developed something of an interest in the proverbial underworld.
At school, I studied sociology before I switched to religious studies. And as clever as they are, Marx, Weber and Durkheim just don’t adequately speak to the very real (and mostly hidden) underworld, intelligence and black ops forces that play a significant role in most cultures around the world.
So sociology began to seem like a bit of a joke. True, we have the field of Deviance within sociology. But would ‘Deviance’ kick in if an actual professor were a crook who destroyed opportunities for those who didn’t fit in or kiss up to his or her criminal agenda?
I doubt it.
It is more likely that the criminal professor would rig the whole game so a second-rate stooge would be hired to kiss butt, 100%. And they won’t tell you that on the news or in academia.
But to get back to the picture, Black Mass has all the elements for cinematic greatness but lacks the spark that makes, say, The Godfather a truly memorable film.
Not a director myself, I’m not exactly sure what’s missing. But this tale comes off more like a mediocre TV show than a feature film. I actually feel the TV show Brotherhood with similar themes of a ‘clean’ politician and his ‘dirty’ gangster brother, rival gangs, estranged women and point-blank violence is far better than this star-studded flop.
Johnny Depp’s performance as a ruthless Boston kingpin is fine. Nothing wrong with that. But he looks so darned ridiculous. Whoever was in the makeup department should have held off on the white powders covering his fake almost masklike mug.
At least, that’s how it looked to me. Planet of the Apes on a bad day or maybe halfway through makeup. Another likeness that came to mind was the old Star Trek TOS episode where Kirk and the Enterprise crew age prematurely. Great story. Bad makeup job.
There is something so unbelievable about the physical appearance of “Whitey” Bulgar, the person upon whom Black Mass is based, that I just couldn’t help but shake this Planet of the Apes / Star Trek thought.
Bottom line: Good story and acting but for some reason just not quite there.