Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch & Dakota Johnson
Synopsis: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
Rating: 15 Duration: 122 minutes Release date: 21 March (UK)
Johnny Depp has received a bit of backlash over the last several years. Despite his heroic turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp has struggled to maintain the sort of acclaim he had early in his career. Many critics have since regarded Black Mass as a return to form for Depp, praising his performance as James “Whitey” Bulger and marking an upturn for his career. While that may be true, Black Mass is also a long, complicated film that tries to hard to mimic several, better gangster films.
Whitey Bulger is one of the most notorious gangsters in American history. His Winter-Hill gang ruled the South Boston area for several decades and led through fear, but he remained a popular, almost cult hero in the local area. Everyone wanted to be friends with Whitey and only a fool would make an enemy of him. Yet, it all spectacularly fell apart after making a deal with the FBI and then letting his explosive nature get the better of him.
Director Scott Cooper’s take on the tale of Whitey Bulger is a dark and sordid one. Cooper doesn’t attempt to make light of Bulger or his colleagues, and you are never left in any doubt that these were very dangerous men, and Cooper has the ability to show this to the fullest. His previous film, Out of the Furnace also showcased a similarly dark nature which fits neatly with the dark acts of the Winter Hill gang.
What is odd though, is the attempt at making the Winter Hill gang and the film as a whole feel like Goodfellas or The Departed. While its portrayal of these gangsters is very brutal, it can never quite work out if it wants to demonise them or make them appear like celebrities. Perhaps this was intentional, although one can never quite tell, but the allure of the lifestyle is abundantly clear and the lines soon blur for the corrupt and those who are meant to be upholding the law.
It’s easy to see why people fell for Whitey and his crew, he’s dangerous and charismatic and Depp fully embodies him. It is fair to say that this is probably the best performance that Depp has put in for a while. He has cast aside the Mad Hatter routine and, while still deep in prosthetics, he puts every ounce of himself into the role and entirely convinces as a man who was once on the FBI’s ten most wanted list.
Black Mass also has one of the best supporting casts that any film has seen in a long while. Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon and Benedict Cumberbatch are just a few of the well chosen actors who lend gravitas and an emotional punch to the film. Edgerton in particular is very good as the FBI agent who forms an allegiance with Whitey, and who then struggles to keep the relationship professional. The only down side to any of the supporting cast is Cumberbatch’s awkward Boston accent.
Black Mass is a decent enough film, it’s fine in the way that watching two episodes of Friends when you get home from work is fine. It passes the time, but never quite grabs you by the balls in the way a film with this subject matter should. Depp and the supporting cast aside, Black Mass is an average gangster film with delusions of grandeur.
Becoming Whitey Bulger is the lone extra on the DVD release of Black Mass.