Weighing up Black Mass
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