Film Review – Black Mass (2015)

Johnny Depp has sold his soul to Disney for a long time so whenever he does a non-Pirates film it’s a bit of an event sadly almost everything he has done in recent years is a massive disappointment with rare exceptions. Depp here plays the real life Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and Depp tried to meet Bulger for his research for the role but Bulger declined to meet him. Scott Cooper directs the film who was a failed actor but has become an interesting director with films like Crazy Heart and the more recent Out of the Furnace.

Bulger was the Mafia kingpin of South Boston from the ’70s well into the early ’90s. However he was also a FBI informant who sold information about his rival Italian gangsters. Whitey’s brother William (Benedict Cumberbatch) was President of the Massachusetts Senate so he was well-connected politically to get away with it. The film mostly deals with his reign of power from 75 to the early ’90s and Whitey’s complicated relationship with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) who was his go-between during his time as a FBI informant, Whitey also knew Connolly because he was from South Boston himself.

The film plays like much like a Scorsese film which is a mixed blessing in many ways. When any filmmaker invokes the work of Scorsese especially films like Mean Streets and Goodfellas it’s hard feet to follow and very few can pull it off efficiently. Cooper doesn’t go for the flashiness of Goodfellas which helps the film, it’s more low-key affair. It’s a totally shocking story isn’t told in a sensationalist way and it’s stunning Bulger got away with it as long as did and it runs at a perfect running time of 2 hours. Depp’s acting here hasn’t been this low-key since probably the other Mafia film he did years ago Donnie Brasco.

The supporting cast is exceptional and supports the powerhouse performance Depp gives. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the best performance of an American he has given so far in his career and does an excellent Boston accent. Joel Edgerton who was so great in Warrior gives a performance which nails the arrogance of Connolly. Kevin Bacon appears as Connolly’s superior FBI agent and despite those EE ads in recent ads it reminds of how great of an actor he really is. Peter Sarsgaard who is always great has a small but vital role as loose cannon of an associate to Whitey.

Black Mass may not be an instant classic but it’s a fascinating and shocking story which I had to admit I didn’t know. Strong performances from all the cast with Depp being the anchor holding it together and he seems to have fun with a the most interesting role he has had in years. It’s well shot by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi which looks back to the films of the ’70s but without be a pastiche. Cooper is shaping up to being one of the most consistent directors of his generation.

Ian Schultz

Biography, Crime, Drama |USA, 2015 | 15 | Warner Bros | 25th November 2015 (UK)| London Film Festival |Dir.Scott Cooper | Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Peter Sarsgaard,

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Ian Schultz

I'm the guy who normally covers stuff released by Masters of Cinema and Arrow Video along with a sprinkling of other stuff. I love a wide range of films from European art house films to silly action films. My top 10 films are Brazil, Blue Velvet, Donnie Darko, Fight Club, Jackie Brown, Seconds, Pan's Labyrinth, Badlands, Blade Runner, The Night of the Hunter.

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