Black Mass (2015)

KEEP YOUR ENEMIES CLOSE.

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.

 [Trailer / Letterboxd / IMDB]

The Departed from the legendary Martin Scorsese is one of my favourite films. It’s set in Boston and follows two moles in the FBI and the local gang respectively as they try to outmatch each other. Whilst it may be inspired by 2002’s almost equally brilliant Infernal Affairs, The Departed’s gangster character, played incredibly well by Jack Nicholson, is inspired by the true crime figure Whitey Bulger, one of the most infamous members of the Boston mafia who was only recently caught a few years ago. Thanks to an informant within the FBI named Tom Connolly, Bulger was largely ignored. Whilst The Departed went for a more liberal adaption of the source material Black Mass follows closely along similar lines, starring Johnny Depp as the infamous gangster.

Depp himself has been undergoing a few troublesome performances as of late. Mortedcai is one of the worst movies that I have ever seen and Transcendence wasn’t much better either. Thankfully though Depp is largely on form for Black Mass, striking an intimidating figure as Bulgar. The trailer gives you an idea as to his ruthlessness and just how chilling he is, in a scene that’s as simple as discussing dinner. There’s some incredibly tense and atmospheric scenes as the movie does an effective job of getting across the look and feel of a mob film.

Director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) puts in a powerful directorial display with Black Mass that looks visually impressive. It’s by no means a perfect film but I for one liked what I saw here, as it managed to entertain and offer up some gripping scenes. The cast is mostly solid with Benedict Cumberbatch being the other big name actor there, playing Bulger’s brother, a powerful state senate leader named Bill, and Joel Edgerton handles the portrayal of the FBI mole John Connolly. It’s effective and watchable, and manages to be essentially, a return to form for Depp. Whilst he can’t ultimately match Jack Nicholson’s take on the Bulger character (even though Nicholson wasn’t playing Bulger himself, he was playing a character with a similar role) it’s a damn sight better than his phoned in performances in the past.

Cumberbatch makes an interesting addition to the cast and is handled well. The paths that both brothers took could have been an interesting angle to explore but for the most part, the actor is wasted with what few scenes he had not creating enough impact. The rest of the supporting cast shine though, Julianne Nicholson as Connolly’s wife, Dakota Johnson as the mother of Bulgar’s son, and Peter Sarsgaard also makes an appearance. The film itself may have a couple of clichéd parts but on the whole, manages to include enough differences from the legends of Scorsese and Copolla to join A Most Violent Year in the more modern gangster movies that prove that there is still life to be had in the genre beyond these two giants.

The film never really kicks off though, which is another minor problem that I had with Black Mass. It’s teasing greater scenes but there isn’t really any wow factor that the movie can bring to the table, no jaw-dropping twist like the elevator scene in The Departed. As a result it can feel frustrating, but despite that, the film as a whole is very solid, with Depp putting in a strong performance that will hopefully lead to a comeback. Yes, there are better gangster movies than this one, but Scott Cooper’s true-story inspired drama is at the same time, worth a watch.

VERDICT: 7.5/10

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