It’s here. Fall movie season is here.
Dramas. Mystery. Matt Damon. Horror. Biopics. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
I started things off with my first Benedict Cumberbatch movie ever, “Black Mass.”
While Cumberbatch does pull off a Boston accent in the film, I know it’s really all about Johnny Depp and his portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger.
The role is being labeled as a comeback for Depp and of course there is some buzz about an Oscar nomination, but his physical transformation into Bulger was a distraction from his overall portrayal of the Boston crime boss/FBI informant. In fact, the makeup, dyed hair, discolored teeth and definitely the icy blue contact lenses were probably unnecessary for moviegoers to understand the true Bulger through Depp’s performance.
That’s especially the case because this rendition of his story, based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neiil, focuses as much on aspects of Bulger’s personal life as it does on his criminal activity on the streets of South Boston and secret business with the FBI.
That aspect of the story is introduced not long into the film when Bulger’s childhood “friend” John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) approaches him to be an informant about another mafia family in Boston in exchange for some immunity – of course as long as he doesn’t kill anybody.
It starts in 1975 and spans all the way until 2011 when Bulger was ultimately arrested after a long long time in hiding.
There are flash forwards of police interviews with members of the Winter Hill Gang who were arrested before Bulger and dished about his crimes and control over them in exchange for possible lesser prison sentences.
You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in the gang – like Jesse Plemons (also with a physical transformation for the role) and Rory Cochrane as Bulger’s right-hand man Steve Flemmi.
I kept thinking about other films I’ve seen Cochrane in while watching “Black Mass” and realized by the time I got home he was my favorite character Lucas in “Empire Records.” I also remember now thinking the same thing when I watched “Argo” and “Public Enemies,” also starring Johnny Depp.
Back to “Black Mass,” the dynamic between Flemmi and Bulger was perhaps the most interesting — and hard to watch — during the film.
There was a sense of trust and loyalty between Bulger and Flemmi, but not enough to would prevent Bulger from betraying his friend and confidant.
As Flemmi said in one of his later FBI interviews, Bulger is truly criminal.
The film also explores the dynamic between Connolly and Bulger and delves somewhat into the relationship between James and his brother Billy, a prominent state senator.
That story alone could be the focus of a movie, which leads me to the real flaw of “Black Mass.”
Bulger’s life and crime career are so complex and span so much time, it’s too much to fit into one movie. The film has a strong cast, for the most part, writing and acting, but the choice to try to fit the bulk of Bulger’s story into two hours was just too much.
Focusing on 35 years of Bulger’s story, ending with his arrest, actually left me wanting to know more about all aspects of what I saw on screen. It just wasn’t possible for director Scott Cooper and the film’s writers to show enough about who Bulger is when they chose to cover that much of his life.
Luckily, as is the case with a lot of movies out this time of year, there is the book to fill in the blanks.
“Black Mass” certainly wasn’t a bad way to start fall movie season and, as I probably say about too many movies, it’s worth seeing. My personal expectations for the film were probably just a little too high.
In other news, “The Martian” starts on Thursday! No complaints, but I thought it was coming out on Nov. 25.
I guess I better start reading that book.