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Black Mass - Blu-ray Review

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Black Mass - Movie Review

3 stars

Scott Cooper’s Black Mass wants to be a steely-eyed monster of a gangster flick. It isn’t quite that, though. The film, while not disappointing, is best described as a procedural pit of darkness in which a pretty awful criminal, one James “Whitey” Bulgar, gets the quasi-reverential Scorsese treatment. He comes crawling out of that pit, in the film’s best moments, with a minor swagger thanks to a ballsy performance from Johnny Depp. Based on the book by The Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, the film glosses over some of the more extreme aspects in Bulgar’s folk hero rise in favor of starry-eyed romantics like the gangster picture of yore as it snuggles up to Goodfellas and The Godfather and plants a sloppy kiss on those puffy cheeks.

Starring a demanding Depp, Black Mass tells the story of Boston’s most notorious criminal. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Massachusetts State Senator William Bulger and the two actors provide a nice balancing act between themes of absolute power and absolute blood in one family. Focusing on the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the film tackles Bulgar’s infamous rise as leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang. It is a movie that tackles its facts rather fantastical as it incorporates what we pretty much expect from other organized crime pictures.

Depp is masterful throughout the film and is likely to get a nod from the academy as this year’s awards season rolls closer. He is THAT good in this murderous role. His take on the real-life Boston gangster is downright chilling at times and the length he goes to provide some kindness in the criminal is also exciting. He is both vengeful and full of shocking humanity and key to almost every scene in the movie. It is a leading performance that continues to extend Depp’s abilities to transform into the characters he brings to life on the screen. Hopefully, it is enough to silence the haters and fanboys who delight in trying to bring down Depp every chance they get.

From the soundtrack selections to the factory-town vibe, far too much of Black Mass is familiar and, given the script from Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk, it simply goes nowhere new. This is unexpected and a bit of a disappointment considering how interesting the REAL story is. It is a shame because the talented cast – featuring a charged Joel Edgerton as John Connolly, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons and Corey Stoll – are all sharp as nails and ready to explore their roles with something that the predictable narrative never provides. The real story of Bulgar is laced with some narratively great moments yet what makes it to the screen is unceremoniously flat and only held together by the performances.

To see, or not to see - that is the question. It’s a toss-up. The film doesn’t fail; it just isn’t necessary. If you go, you will see a VERY engaged Depp. Hooray for that. The actor, regardless of how many times he decides to play Captain Jack Sparrow for Disney, is talented and absolutely unstoppable when it comes to his abilities to disappear into a role. If you ask me, the scalding performance from Depp – even if his take on Bulgar becomes a bit telegraphed in the final arc of the narrative - is the ONLY reason to pay the admission fees for this trip down some familiar gangster territory.

Black Mass - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use
Runtime:
122 mins
Director
: Scott Cooper
Writer:
Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
Cast:
Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson
Genre
: Biography | Crime
Tagline:
Keep your enemies close.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Take your shot but make it your best. 'Cause I get up, I eat ya."
Distributor:
Warner Bros.
Official Site: http://www.blackmassthemovie.com/
Release Date:
September 18, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: John Connolly and James "Whitey" Bulger grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the late 1970s, they would meet again. By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI's Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob. What happened between them - a dirty deal to trade secrets and take down Boston's Italian Mafia in the process - would spiral out of control, leading to murders, drug dealing, racketeering indictments, and, ultimately, to Bulger making the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.

Black Mass - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 11, 2014
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; Digital copy; DVD copy
Region Encoding: A

Warner Bros. has a winner on its hands with the blu-ray release of Scott Cooper’s Black Mass. Their 1080p conversion absolutely nails the filthy grit and grime of South Boston’s mean streets with a  presentation good enough for a big box retailer demo… well, were it not for the triple digit F-bomb tirades and brain-splattering violence.

Though much of the film is shot at night, under dark viaducts, or in dimly lit interiors, the filmic grain of its 35mm original holds up beautifully as colors pop with absolutely no bleed while the blacks are dark and inky. This is a near perfect 2.35:1 blu-ray treatment, folks!

Car crashes, gunshots, and murderous screams fill the room as the 5.1 surround gives your audio system a total workout while the period soundtrack comes to life throughout. The quiet whispers never get lost in the atmospheric score.

Just a minor gripe, but one that is likely to drive those with OCD batty. The graphic printed on the disc itself is meant to depict a grainy, brick wall, rough rock, or somethign similar. But the image doesn't quite come through and instead looks like a bad printing job. Like the ink disn't completely adhere to the surface.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

While there’s no commentary, three ample extras round out this marvelous blu-ray package that comes in a slipcover packed with two discs and a code for digital HD and ultraviolet  download.

  • Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime (0:23:00) - A 20-minute plus rundown  of the project as director Scott Cooper discusses his initial interest in the story, and Johnny Depp waxes about working under Cooper. The featurette plays out like a commentary as scenes from the movie run beneath the interviews.
  • Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger (0:12:24) - Short discussion that covers the failed attempt to interview the real Whitey Bulger from prison, as well as Depp’s make-up process. A time-lapse video of Depp’s extremely lengthy prosthetic application is particularly fascinating.
  • The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger (1:01:38) - This ample feature goes into fairly deep detail of the real-life hunt for, and the capture of, James “Whitey” Bulger, but could have been cut in half.

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