BLACK MASS-review

Black Mass (2015) – Review

We get the FBI to fight our wars, and we get to do whatever we want to do!” — Whitey Bulger

Gangster movies return to its lair with Scott Cooper’s based-on-true-event bonanza, Black Mass. Revolving around the life of James “Whitey” Bulger, dubbed as the #2 most wanted fugitive in America after Osama bin Laden, this biopic is a manifestation of evil at its purest; but, most importantly, it’s a bloody comeback stage for your favorite, Johnny Depp.

First thing first, forget the queer pirate image or other costumed image of Depp from mind, because one thing that I’m gonna underline from the beginning is: Depp as Whitey Bulger will spit on them all. Not quirky at all, not even mythical; his character is as human as he might ever be—though, do not think of ordinary human with compassion and conscience.

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Back in 1975, Whitey Bulger was only a leader of his White Hill Gang—small-time Irish crime gang originated from South Boston. His brother, though, was Massachusetts senator, Billy Bulger (Cumberbacth), but he’s got nothing to do with his brother’s power. “Jimmy’s business is Jimmy’s business,” Billy explained. One turning point happened when his old street buddy, John Connolly (Edgerton), now an FBI agent came to make an unholy alliance to get rid of their mutual enemy, Italian mobsters.

Whitey Bulger’s proven as a slick criminal; it’s hard to control him from growing into a big-time crimelord. The unholy alliance got out of hand, not even FBI could handle his prowess, not even his own brother, not Connolly.

Black Mass by Scott Cooper is an intense gangster imagery, along with brutal depiction of violence and the filth of Southie at its filthiest. It’s narrated by a number of Whitey’s henchmen, giving it a more personal touch (although they’re actors, too); and it shows some key events to Whitey’s most notorious years as crimelord.

The pacing is sometimes going too slow and there are so many uncomfortable silence here and there juxtaposing with Masanobu Takayanagi’s profound cinematography. The jumbled plot offers nothing new and, even, sometimes goes somewhere losing focus. It’s true that Black Mass‘ focus sometimes get shifted from Whitey Bulger’s crime-life to his alliance and relationship with John Connolly. Yet, there’s some moments where we’re left to think what’s the necessity of some sub-plots—like Connolly’s deteriorating relationship with his wife, which is overexposed.

What makes differences in Black Mass is, as I mentioned previously, Johnny Depp. His portrayal of Whitey Bulger is so compelling I sometimes thought he’s becoming him. Whitey’s not a fictional character like what he usually portrays; Whitey’s a real character with uniqueness, Whitey is an unpredictable timebomb, and Depp’s on the right track on that. Sometimes he looks tame, but within an awkward silence, he’s as ferocious as beasts. Depp’s adopting this character to the extent that even by looking at his eyes, we can feel his coldness, by listening to his silence, we keep thinking who’s gonna survive him. It feels like sums of his performance from the past few years mean nothing compared to this.

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Good thing is, other actors can at least equal his evil persona in good amount. Edgerton is able to equal Depp’s performance as he carries Connolly’s ambiguity with his top-notch performance. Speaking of characterization, you’ll find out quickly that none of Black Mass‘ characters is likeable—not even Cumberbatch’s Billy, nor Kevin Bacon’s nor Dakota Johnson’s. And for a movie like this, it’s a decent thing—to create resentment that synchronizes the movie’s inner spirit.

To conclude it all, Black Mass is never a likeable movie, not a kind of movie you’d enjoy. It’s frustrating at every moment, but it gets you thrilled by your own resentment towards each and every single character they introduce, most notably Johnny Depp’s Whitey Bulger.

Black Mass (2015)

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Biopic, Crime, Drama Directed by: Scott Cooper Written by: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth based on a book by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill Starred by: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon Runtime: 122 mins Rated R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use

IMDb | Official Site


Film gangster kembali ke sarangnya dalam film gila-gilaan karya Scott Cooper yang berdasar kisah nyata ini, Black Mass. Mengisahkan tentang James “Whitey” Bulger, buronan paling dicari di Amerika setelah Osama, biopik ini adalah manifestasi kejahatan yang paling murni. Namun, pastinya, ini juga adalah comeback stage yang brutal bagi Johnny Depp.

Sebelum masuk terlalu jauh, saya tegaskan: lupakan imej bajak laut yang nyentrik atau makhluk-makhluk berkostum khas Depp lainnya. Depp sebagai Whitey Bulger adalah lontaran ludah bagi semua yang saya sebut tadi. Dia tidak nyentrik, tidak mythical, dia sangat “manusia”—asal jangan pikir tentang manusia yang punya hati nurani.

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Kembali ke tahun 1975, Whitey Bulger hanyalah pimpinan gang rendahan White Hill Gang yang beroperasi di South Boston. Adiknya, Billy Bulger (Cumberbatch) justru adalah senator Massachussets; tapi, dia tak ada hubungannya dengan reputasi Whitey. “Jimmy’s business is Jimmy’s business,” kalau boleh mengutip perkataan Billy.

Titik balik bagi Whitey adalah kemunculan John Connolly (Edgerton), teman masa kecilnya yang kini menjadi agen FBI. Connolly percaya bahwa Whitey bisa menjadi aset berharga bagi FBI, apalagi FBI dan Whitey punya musuh yang sama, Mafia Italia. Maka terbentuklah aliansi terkutuk itu dan dar situlah Whitey mulai menapaki langkahnya menjadi gembong kriminal raksasa, yang bahkan membuat FBI kewalahan.

Black Mass menampilkan intensitas film gangster sampai pada puncaknya, membawa serta segala brutalitas sampai ke titik nadirnya. Dinarasikan oleh mantan anak buah Whitey, film ini membawa nuansa personal (walaupun naratornya diperankan aktor juga) yang menuntun kita mengikuti perjalanan gelap Whitey.

Pacing-nya kadang memang terlalu lambat apalagi dijejali dengan kesunyian yang selalu membuat tak nyaman yang dipadukan dengan sinematografi Masanobu Takanayagi. Plotnya yang lompat-lompat tak menawarkan sesuatu yang baru, dan bahkan sering kehilangan fokus. Perlu diketahui, fokus Black Mass kadang berpindah dari perjalanan pribadi Whitey ke hubungannya dengan Connolly, namun kadang malah melebar terlalu jauh—contohnya kasus di mana hubungan Connolly yang memburuk dengan istrinya malah terlalu diekspos (walaupun di satu sisi makin menguatkan pengaruh Whitey).

Yang membuat perbedaan antara Black Mass dengan film gangster serupa tentu saja adalah Johnny Depp. Penampilannya sebagai Whitey Bulger sangat totalitas hingga kadang terasa Depp telah menjadi Bulger sendiri. Bulger bukanlah tokoh fiksi di mana Depp bisa membangun personanya, ia adalah tokoh nyata yang khas, dan Depp mampu menampilkan kekhasan itu. Whitey adalah bom waktu; kadang ia nampak jinak, namun dalam sekejap, pasca awkward silence, dia bisa menjadi sebuas binatang. Depp berhasil menampilkan sisi itu—bahkan dengan menatap matanya saja, dinginnya terasa, dan mendengarkan kesunyiannya, keraguan akan siapa yang akan selamat dari aksinya pun muncul.

Dari semua aktingnya yang sudah-sudah dalam beberapa tahun terakhir, mungkin inilah yang paling nyata.

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Bagusnya, aktor yang lain mampu mengimbangi Depp dengan porsi mereka masing-masing. Edgerto berhasil menjadi penyeimbang yang tepat terlebih dalam menampilkan ambiguitas Connolly. Omong-omong soal karakterisasi, tak ada satupun karakter dalam Black Mass yang likeable, not even Cumberbatch’s Billy, nor Kevin Bacon’s nor Dakota Johnson’s. Dan dalam film seperti ini, itu sangat mendukung dalam membangun atmosfer penuh kebencian.

Intinya, Black Mass jelas bukanlah film yang menyenangkan. Film ini membuat frustasi setiap saat namun makin tertarik karena penampilan para aktornya, terutama, Johnny Depp.


This Black Mass review is written by Paskalis Damar. Review film Black Mass ini diterjemahkan ke dalam Bahasa Indonesia oleh Paskalis Damar.

2 thoughts on “Black Mass (2015) – Review”

  1. Aw, that’s too bad you didn’t like this more. I didn’t think the relationship with Connelly’s wife was overexposed, I liked having that female presence in that story since it was such a male driven film. I am annoyed that Dakota Johnson somehow got top billing over Julianne Nicholson.

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    1. Well, yeah for a movie with an ensemble of barely likeable characters, this is pretty good. But I insist on pointing out some distant subplot geting much exposure. There is moment where Connolly’s wife get along good with the story, but she’s getting too many repetitive tension. But I agree with you about Dakota Johnson’s getting top billing. Even Juno Temple does better.

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