I’d have to disagree with those calling Black Mass a “generic gangster flick”. While Black Mass is littered with problems, Cooper at least tries to bring some originality to the table. Of course, there are some typical tropes from gangster films, but what gangster films from the past fifteen years that have not borrowed from The Godfather?
Every thirty to forty minutes Cooper begins to focus on something new, which allows the film to be more of a kaleidoscopic look at the people that surrounded Bulger rather than it being solely about him. Cooper’s tampering with the traditional structure works in some aspects, but for the most part, it does not. It does not allow for the audience ever to get a real sense of what made Bulger such a notorious criminal until almost halfway into the film. This is when Cooper begins to draw the majority of his focus towards him. We get as much of a sense of Bulger as we do one of his henchmen, Kevin Weeks, who is the central focus of the film towards the beginning. When Cooper is focusing on a particular character, he still shows us what is going on with the others, but at an incredibly inconsistent rate.
Since Cooper can not possibly focus on every character in a feature-length film, this structural choice does not allow for most of the characters to get developed. In particular, this leaves Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in the dust. The onscreen text at the end of the film that revealed what happened to the characters after where the film left off tells the audience more about his character than Cooper ever does during the film. When focusing on a particular character for too long, the film begins to feel incredibly repetitious. Watching Bulger commit crime after crime does not add anything to his character that the first few acts of crime did not already establish.
Director of photography, Masanobu Takayanagi presents beautiful imagery throughout, but it is far too distant. His cameraworks created this distant feel that protracted me from ever being able to get enraptured by the whole tale. While almost every character in this is a vile human being, Cooper never establishes a character for the audience to gravitate towards throughout the film. The lengthy conversations between characters carry very little intrigue. Part of this is because the dialogue is not anything that special. The main reason for this is because Cooper does not establish any intrigue, which is why Black Mass will be forgotten about come Oscar season.