Weigh­ing up Black Mass

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES - Leigh Paatsch

BLACK MASS (MA15+)

Di­rec­tor : Scott Cooper (Out of the Fur­nace) Star­ring : Johnny Depp, Joel Edger­ton, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Ple­mons, Dakota John­son

ON pa­per, the new gang­ster drama Black Mass has much go­ing for it.

Most no­tably, a re­mark­able true story and the long-awaited re­turn of Johnny Depp to “se­ri­ous” act­ing.

On screen, how­ever, Black Mass doesn’t go any­where much.

Though its com­pelling tale of a heart­less, vi­cious hood­lum hit­ting great heights with the full sup­port of the FBI re­mains in­tact – and Depp is in the best form we have seen for many years – this oddly static ex­pe­ri­ence fails to cap­i­talise on its best as­sets.

The cen­tral fig­ure in pro­ceed­ings is no­to­ri­ous Bos­ton crime lord James “Whitey” Bul­ger (Depp).

As the film be­gins in the mid-1970s, Bul­ger is merely a mid-strength mob­ster, mak­ing ends meet with a small clutch of pro­tec­tion rack­ets on his home turf in South Bos­ton.

If you grew up a “Southie”, you shared a bond with friends and en­e­mies alike that was be­yond the reach of the law.

An am­bi­tious young agent named John Con­nolly (Joel Edger­ton) hailed from the same neigh­bour­hood as Bul­ger and, look­ing to make a name for him­self by end­ing the mafia’s long and lu­cra­tive stran­gle­hold on crime in Bos­ton, bro­kered a bizarre yet highly ef­fec­tive al­liance with him.

If the proudly Ir­ish Whitey was pre­pared to rat out his Ital­ian ri­vals, the FBI was more than happy to look the other way while Bul­ger ex­panded his oper­a­tions.

Bla­tantly ig­nor­ing the FBI’s stip­u­la­tion there be “no drugs and no killing”, Bul­ger rapidly be­came an out-of-con­trol mon­ster that could not be reeled back in.

And as an added layer of pro­tec­tion, Whitey’s kid brother Billy (Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch) just hap­pened to be the most pow­er­ful sen­a­tor in the state.

On a per­for­mance level, Black Mass can­not be faulted. Depp’s por­trayal of Bul­ger – par­tic­u­larly once his psy­cho­pathic char­ac­ter’s un­mis­tak­able charisma gives way to un­fil­tered evil – is a stun­ning and dis­turb­ing cre­ation that ranks with some of the ac­tor’s best work.

Edger­ton, Cum­ber­batch and a well-cho­sen sup­port cast are also in the right zone to con­vey ex­actly what is re­quired by the con­flicted men they play.

How­ever, where the film re­peat­edly stum­bles – and never comes close to right­ing it­self – is all to do with its so­porific, one-note screen­play.

The lyri­cally men­ac­ing flow of a work such as Martin Scors­ese’s Goodfel­las was sorely needed. In­stead, the feel­ing the screen­play is work­ing slowly through a check­list of crim­i­nal atroc­i­ties never goes away.

Now show­ing Vil­lage cine­mas

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