|UK Release Date||25th November 2015|
Based on the true story of South Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, Black Mass presents us the magical transformation of Johnny Depp into a terrifying blue eyed bald maniac. This in itself is something of wonderment but the Scott Cooper's latest cinematic offering lacks enough pizzazz and swagger to make it the classic it is aiming to be.
Bulger was a low level gangster, released from Alcatraz when his old school buddy Jimmy Connolly, now working for the FBI, approached him with a proposition – help the FBI get the Mafia out of Southey and help himself at the same time. In Whitey’s mind he is a man of honour and a rat is a rat but being the clever man that he was Whitey decided he could use this to his advantage and boy, did he do that. Whilst ‘informing’ for the FBI Bulger became on the biggest crime lords in Boston, unstoppable and protected by the FBI shield. Classic FBI stupidity that led to Bulger fully taking advantage of said stupidity and getting more and more out of control and powerful.
Directed by Scott Cooper who made the wonderful Crazy Heart, Black Mass has got some stellar talent involved both behind and in front of the camera, there certainly isn’t faulting that cast: Joel Edgerton is wonderful as good guy going really bad Connolly, Jesse Plemons, one of my favourite actors right now, is spot on as the kid Kevin Weeks. Rory Cochrane was actually my favourite as right hand man Flemmi. We really saw the humanity and heartbreak in some of the scenes as he watches Bulger finally overstepping the mark. Kevin Bacon gives great Bacon as FBI boss and Corey Stoll plays good lawyer trying to clean up the crap Connolly has gotten the FBI into. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother Billy that is erm, interesting casting. He’s not bad if you can get past the fact that Cooper is asking you to believe Cumberbatch and Depp are brothers. Dakota Johnson is in this film as well for about 6 minutes as token female…I mean the mother of Bulger’s child. She fares better than poor old Juno Temple though, woefully wasted as a teenage prostitute and onscreen for about 4 minutes. There are in fact three female characters in Black Mass – a mother, a wife and a whore. Wonderful. All bases covered. Cheers Scott.
So lets talk about Depp. It is indeed a breath-taking transformation and it’s a great role for Depp. There’s never been any doubt in my mind that JD is a great actor and it’s nice to see him in a role so seriously departed from what we expect from him. It’s testament to Depp’s skills to see the role beyond the make up as when he first enters the screen it is so jarring and strange it almost derailed the whole expedience for me. Anyway Depp pulls it back and imbues Whitey with a humanity that perhaps lesser-loved actors might not have managed. There definitely needs to be charm to pull off playing a murdering, ruthless gangster and Depp sure has that in spades. I doubt he’ll win an Oscar for the role but it is something he has a right to be proud of.
The screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth is tight and lean; there isn’t a moment where the dialogue felt tired or expositional. Many of the locations used were actual places where murders took place and Masanobu Takayangi steely cinematography suffuses the action in a grey green hue. It’s got a great look. Kasia Walicke Miamone’s costumes hit the mark of authenticity and steering away from the more ludicrous elements of the period effectively.
So let’s cut to the chase, Black Mass is a good film. It has a good script, it is well directed, has a fabulous cast and Johnny Depp is just brilliant but you know what? It’s just ain’t got no swagger. This is a film that is aligning itself with movies such as The Departed, Carlito’s Way and Goodfellas. And those films are cool as fuck. Black Mass is just not cool. It’s good but it’s not cool. And that’s kind of a shame.