Black Mass (2015)

blackmass_2015_poster
Black Mass (2015)
  • Time: 122 min
  • Genre: Biography | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Scott Cooper
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton, Peter Sarsgaard

Storyline:

John Connolly and James “Whitey” Bulger grew up together on the streets of South Boston. Decades later, in the late 1970s, they would meet again. By then, Connolly was a major figure in the FBI’s Boston office and Whitey had become godfather of the Irish Mob. What happened between them – a dirty deal to trade secrets and take down Boston’s Italian Mafia in the process – would spiral out of control, leading to murders, drug dealing, racketeering indictments, and, ultimately, to Bulger making the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

8 reviews

  • As the title suggests, Black Mass exercises a Satanic evil — in a character paradoxically named Whitey.

    Like the real-life character, this Whitey Bulger is a killer with reptilian charm whose psychopathology goes far beyond the proffered explanation of LSD experiments at Alcatraz. He’s driven to build and secure a criminal empire but relishes torture for its own sake.

    While Bulger is careful not to be seen taking a satchel of money, we see him strangle and shoot people. He has a limited fastidiousness. The genre usually has the boss delegate such hands-on work. These graphic scenes connect Whitey to his crimes, even as he’s coldly detached from any emotional connections other than his mother and son, who both die early. Even when he offers his young son guidance it’s on how to get away with violence not to eschew it.

    Whitey hates rats but he can rationalize turning informer for the FBI. It’s a business arrangement, by which the feds will help the Irish gang boss wipe out his rival Mafiosa.

    The film’s central theme is the antithesis of connections and “pulling the plug.” That phrase recurs. Whitey implicitly pulls the plug on his girlfriend when she explicitly says she’d pull the plug on their brain-dead son.

    There’s a constant tension between a character’s respecting his bond and breaking it. Hence the narrative’s structure, reminiscences by his gunsels turning state’s witness against him. So, too, Whitey’s frequent strategy of pretending to forgive and accept someone immediately before killing him/her.

    There’s a wide range of connections here. Whitey’s brother is a leading state politician who steers completely clear of Whitey’s criminal life.
    But he has to resign from his university chancellorship when he’s found to have been in contact with the fugitive Whitey. In that fraternal connection, he failed to pull the plug completely enough.

    The third of these childhood friends is FBI agent John Connolly, who uses his old connection to enlist Whitey as informer. For failing to pull the plug he goes down. So does fellow agent John Morris, who moves from tentative conspirator to terrified. Typical of Satanic evil, Buiger has a seductive pull that enables a rationalization of justice to gloss the self-interest. The dapper suit, gold watch and new-found swagger are but signs of Connolly’s corruption by his fidelity to his old friend.

    The Bulger boys’ mother loves both, obviously, and may or may not be guilty of cheating Whitey at gin. But Connolly’s wife pulls the plug on their marriage when she’s exposed to Whitey’s insinuating evil unmasked. As described above, Whitey pulls the plug on his relationship before his girlfriend does.

    Whitey and Connolly — but not Whitey’s legit brother — make a big deal out of their old friendship and their connection to the neighbourhood. Here loyalty covers a multitude of sins and moral compromise. So, too, Whitey’s brief service to the IRA’s cause, an extension of his role of Irish warrior against the Italian gang, the South Side of Boston against the North. Where you’re from is a much-touted bond, to compel loyalty, but the truly moral will pull that plug when virtue requires.

    Gunsel Steven is connected to his girlfriend’s daughter but overextends that connection in their sexual relationship. When the cops probe her connection to Whitey’s gang he strangles her. When Whitey turns against Morris for revealing his family’s secret marinade recipe, he demonstrates the sinister danger in any connection to such evil. The scene ends with Whitey’s even more chilling violation of Connolly’s wife. The only healthy character in the house, she pleads illness.

    There are two humorous replays of the theme. An end credit promises no profits have resulted from the film’s use of cigarettes. That is, nothing is connected to the smoke. And the film’s most senior law officer is played by Kevin Bacon, mister six degrees of separation/connection himself.

    Obviously the film’s subject goes beyond Whitey Bulger to America’s knotted and inextricable binding of good and evil, the criminal and the law. One hand washes the other. The film derives not just out of the gangster genre but out of the even more characteristic American tradition, the Western. There American civilization is rooted in the gun and the noose. Gunmen brought “civilization” to the wilds and gunmen secure their families and relationships in the urban jungle.

    These days that paradox extends even further, to the international tyrants that America befriends and supports in its own thus morally compromised interests. Hello Saudis and Iran. Goodbye, naive confidence in any easy honour.

  • Godfatheresque. Goodfellas: The Joe Pesci Story. A Mystic River makeover. These are the words I would use to describe Black Mass (the flick I’m about to review). Is it my pick for best of the year? So far. Will it sustain Academy Awards momentum right into 2016? That remains to be seen. Either way, it’s is a knockout, a small-time mob yarn with plenty of attitude. To quote the Standells, “love that dirty water, oh Boston you’re my home”.

    The direction in Black Mass is pragmatic and crisp. And although I’ve never seen Scott Cooper’s earlier work, I liked his 2013 release being the Christian Bale vehicle, Out of the Furnace. In “Furnace”, Cooper made it all about the performances while letting the conveying sensibilities fall into narrow territory. With “Mass”, he now gets everything just right. There’s a flowing timeline from the year 1975 all the way up to 2011. It’s safe to say that real-life gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, gets his rightful, Hollywood due (don’t worry folks, this dude is still a despicable human being).

    As for the lead, well Mr. Johnny Depp sports hair-raising contact lenses and a grayed-up, receding hairline. He plays the Bulger character the same way Daniel Day Lewis took over the proceedings in There Will Be Blood. Both actors are in almost every frame, both of them hold the screen as if it’s a thimble, and both are larger than life. Truth be told, Depp’s been a bad guy in other films but for some reason, this is his most vicious turn I can think of. He’s certainly not likable, you don’t root for him (you don’t really root for anybody in this thing), and when he strangles a teenage prostitute after posing as her confidant, it just breaks your heart. Honestly, Johnny boy goes so far down the rabbit hole with Bulger’s intellect that you forgot it’s actually him. Good old Edward Scissorhands is too nice of an actor to kill someone and then tell everybody he’s about to take a nap. Right?

    Anyway, “Mass” with its Bostonian setting, its multiple scenes of people dying in broad daylight, and its freewheeling, seventies soundtrack, runs mostly in flashback (this does in fact, work to its advantage). Nobody and I mean nobody, does gloom and doom or dirty and grubby like Scott Cooper. The present day sequences which are inserted throughout, involve FBI interrogations with various members of “Whitey’s” delinquent crew (they are known as the Winter Hill Gang). The movie unabashedly begins in the mid 70’s as it chronicles Bulger’s rise via the criminal food chain in Southie. He’s the upper echelon of savagery, he’s a murderer, he’s a drug dealer, and he becomes an eventual informant for the Feds. Why you ask? So he can take down a fellow mafia chain trying to cut in on his regional turf.

    Now a lot of critics and audience members around the world have touted this cinematic conch as quote unquote, “Johnny Depp’s movie” or “Johnny Depp’s show”. I have to digress. It’s much more than that. Many great actors here fade in and out. That in no way diminishes the effect of “Black’s” stagnant (and straight ahead) entertainment value. Benedict Cumberbatch plays effectively, Bulger’s senator brother (William Bulger). Dakota Johnson is solid in a couple of scenes as his girlfriend and mother of his dying child. Then you have Kevin Bacon in rage mode playing a torn FBI boss (Mr. Charles McGuire). Finally, you get a quiet, off-kilter hitman in Rory Cochrane. As Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi (“Whitey’s” right-hand man), he doesn’t say much yet his screen presence gives off apprehension in the worst way.

    So for what’s it’s worth, “Mass” has the cojones to kick in the door and possibly kick you in the teeth. It’s a gangster pic scaled down to the bare minimum (for my money, that’s a good thing). Bottom line: A great cast, a few Scorsese-like exterior shots, a top five performance from Depp, clean editing, and some tasty Massachusetts locales give you the final rub. Yeah it’s violent, yeah it’s unforgiving, and yeah it’s altogether antagonistic. But Black Mass checks in as a winner pretty much the whole way. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Rating: 3.5 out of four stars

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  • (Rating: ☆☆☆½ out of 4)

    This film is highly recommended.

    In brief: A standard gangster film that goes above the standard due to a star performance and some fine filmmaking.

    GRADE: B+

    In Black Mass, Scott Cooper’s chilling bio-pic of psychotic killer and mob leader, James “Whitey” Bulger, we follow a bloody trail of gruesome murders and assorted mayhem on the road to his notoriety. The film chronicle’s Burger’s life and killing sprees, from his beginnings as a small-time thug in South Boston to becoming a dangerous mob leader and F.B.I. informant. Johnny Depp plays this central role and he is brilliant (but more on that later) and the film’s other cast members are just terrific too,

    Crime may not pay, but it sure earned Burger a nice living, before being apprehended after 30+ years of being a career criminal, even using the F.B.I. to help his meteoric rise to the Most Wanted list. The screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk is so well written and researched. Their script focuses on the personal side of Bulger, with his Irish family ties, particularly his close relationship with his Senator brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his childhood friendship with F.B.I. agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). It also solidly interweaves his business dealings with other partners-in-crime. Dialog has a natural rhythm and all of the characters, both major and minor, are fully developed.

    The director creates a realistic world of criminals and lowlifes. Although the story has a been-there-done-that feel and is too derivative of other gangster films, Cooper’s vision is fresh and detail-oriented. Scenes bristle with tension and shocking violence, some merely suggested off-camera; others shown in grisly close-ups. (Be forewarned: The film is extremely gruesome.) He has assembled a top-notch ensemble that inhabit these indelible characters in many memorable moments.

    This is, by far, one of the year’s best acted films of the year. Delivering a break-out performance is the aforementioned Mr. Edgerton as the ambitious and easily corrupted agent and friend, hell-bent on making a professional career at the bureau and using Bulger as any means to accomplish that goal. Benedict Cumberbatch as Burger’s loving brother shows his character’s range of compassion in his few short scenes. Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, and Peter Saragaard as Bulger’s cronies are excellent. Giving strong support in smaller roles are Dakota Johnson as Bulger’s girlfriend, Juno Temple as an unfortunate prostitute, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Adam Scott, and David Harbour as F.B.I. agents, the latter encapsulates a good man caught in the web of corruption. Julianne Nicholson is superb as Connolly’s wife, whose uncomfortable and noticeable dislike for Bulger leads to a confrontation scene with Depp that is totally mesmerizing.

    But it is Mr. Depp who is a marvel of nuanced acting, so unlike his work in these past years. (One forgets his keen ability and talent as an actor with such debacles as The Lone Ranger, Into the Woods, Transcendence, Dark Shadows, The Tourist, so fresh in one’s mind…need I go on.) In this film, his portrayal is more than a mere physical transformation with Depp’s icy-blue eyes (contacts) matching his ice-cold bloodlessness. (If the eyes are the window to the soul, this ultimately leads to a man devoid of any humanity.) The actor’s mannerisms, posturing, and unflinching stares communicate more than his character’s hollow and insincere words. He oozes a creepiness with his balding skeletal facial expressions and exudes menace from every pore. His line delivery is deliberately flippant at times, and other times, hesitant with every calculated pause. He plays Bulger as a predator in search of any victim, trusting no one. It’s an Oscar worthy performance.

    Black Mass also has wonderful production values. The make-up and prosthetic work on Mr. Depp makes the actor unrecognizable, and while he does not truly resemble the real criminal, he makes this character a terrifying and totally riveting monster. The atmospheric cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi’s and concise editing by David Rosenbloom make the film more compelling than most from this genre. There is fine period art direction and costumes by Jeremy Woodward and Kasia Walicka-Maimone, respectively. And Junkie XL’s musical score heightens the suspense quite effectively.

    Despite its conventional narrative structure, Black Mass is one of the best films of the year. Cooper and Depp bring new blood to the old aging gangster genre, even if the blood flows in buckets.

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  • Johnny Depp is a well known and praised actor for his work by portraying colorful various characters. However in recent years, many began to think Depp was running out of ideas on how to make his roles unique. A role many loved from his early 2000s was the lead role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl as Captain Jack Sparrow. Audiences and fans a like began to notice that as time went on, Depp began taking liberties with his acting choices and translating many of Sparrow’s mannerisms into his other roles. Although hardcore Depp fans do not mind this, objective critics were not impressed with all the doppelgangers. Then there’s this film which completely flips the Depp perception of his usual odd and quirky roles into something that will truly showcase that Depp has more to add. There really isn’t much to pull out on the spot for this project. Several of the elements in this production blend so well that it’s very difficult to go back and think about what needed work or stood out as bad.

    Johnny Depp plays the Irish fist-throwing/trash-talking Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, a real life small town gangster during the mid 1970s who ended up soaring to the F.B.I.’s most wanted list after the early 1990s. Competently directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace (2013)) and written by Mark Mallouk (his first credit) and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow (2014)), this group of people and the cast tacked on make this story quite the watcher. The writing covers the material as if it were a documentary but does it in such a way that demonstrates to the audience what actually happened other than the people being interviewed giving it all away. It’s not incredibly ingenious but it is smart because it gives the viewers a better idea of the people involved and how they dealt with the situation that was erupting during that current time period other than hearing from them decades later. The only thing that is worth mentioning that should’ve been brought up is how Bulger got his mentality that he was so infamously known for? There is no backstory for Bulger’s motivations. Why was he the way he was?

    Other than this, everything else works great. Casting wise, Johnny Depp as Jimmy Bulger is jarringly different from recent acting choices and it is a delight to see him as the fouled-mouthed Irishman. Depp’s voice is grainy sounding, his receding blonde hairline and cloudy blue eyes really make this something to remember. Even though the background to Bulger’s eventual trademark characteristics are not expanded upon, Depp’s performance is dumbfoundingly captivating. For such an antagonistic character, the writing and Depp combined are able to give even Bulger small tidbits of humanity that don’t even seem possible. The reason why this is almost shocking is because most audiences are not supposed to feel sympathy for such a character. What’s weird is that there are times where it seemed as if Bulger did have his soft moments. For example, when Bulger makes a promise about a certain topic, he honestly sounds like he’s giving a scout’s honor. Then again, it was hard to tell because of how deceitful his personality was. That alone is demonstrated quite early on. This is how devious the writing and the character is.

    Along side Depp is Joel Edgerton as John Connolly, an old friend of Bulger who feels he owes him a favor. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother Billy who also knows Connolly and frequently associates with him. Actors Jesse Plemons and Rory Cochrane play Bulger’s henchmen who show they are just as loyal to Bulger as is Connolly and Billy. There’s also scenes with Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon, David Harbour and Adam Scott who work along side Connolly in the F.B.I. agency. The majority of these characters get a good dose of character development and each actor performs exceptionally well. The violence although not gruesome, is certainly brutal no doubt. The killings are mostly direct and to the point about what the job is and there are some that will make the viewer hope they don’t ever have a run in with a character like Bulger. Not even a can of spinach would save somebody against Bulger; contempt is what he lives on.

    The cinematography shot by Masanobu Takayanagi has a skilled visual flare to it as well. Since this film has two methods of story telling, there are also two methods of camerawork. For the documentary style part of the narrative, Takayanagi films those scenes completely still and close up like an interview would. As for the rest of the execution, Takayanagi films the rest of the scenes like other films. Thankfully there are no shaky cam shots, or disorienting continuous rotating 360 shots. Every scene is well lit and is steady no matter where the camera goes. The film score composed by Tom Holkenborg, better known as Junkie XL also brings in some nice cues to the table. It was a little questionable at first because of how Holkenborg likes to mimic several of Hans Zimmer contemporary synthetic type cues but here Holkenborg actually provided a enjoyable listening experience that includes strings and piano that emotionally capture the trouble that goes on throughout this crime thriller. It’s tragic and sounds great.

    The only thing that sticks out as of needs for improvement was explaining how Jimmy Bulger got his motivations to become what he’s known for. That’s not much to say though with a talented supporting cast, gritty violence, effective camerawork, tragic sounding music and a defining performance from Johnny Depp that is quite opposite from the majority of his previous roles.

    Points Earned –> 8:10

  • The reason that actors get the biggest check out of everybody involved with the film is because they are the people, for the most part, who get people to fill in seats. As their filmography grows, so does their fans (well, if they’re doing their jobs correctly at least). There are a few actors that grew such a fanbase that no matter the film they put out fans are going to watch it. Hey, they might even pass on watching the trailer because they know they are going to watch it regardless of the premise. An example of an actor having this kind of pull is Johnny Depp but there is one problem, Depp has been pulling his fans into a huge mess of movies as of late. It has been a long time since Deep has received a positive review from me and that all changes with Black Mass.

    In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) persuades Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history.

    The thing with Depp is that ever since he played the beloved Captain Jack Sparrow, he forgot that sometimes less is better. Don’t get me wrong, Depp’s over-the-top caricatures are a huge reason why I see his films but lately this has been a huge reason why I have dreaded his films. It takes a director, Scott Copper, who was not the first or second choice to helm the film to remind Deep less-is-more and due to that, Depp gives his best performance in the post-Captain Jack Sparrow era.

    There is one problem with Depp’s performance and it is entirely not Depp’s fault. There is a thin line between something that looks real and something that looks realistic and Depp’s makeup and prosthetics falls between that thin line. It is hard not to stare at Depp’s bright blue eyes, failed to convince hairline, or lizard-y skin. It does not take away from Depp’s performance but sure does take some attention away.

    As for his actually performance, Depp kills it as the mob boss, no irony intended. Despite not looking like Bulger at all, Depp nails all the different characteristics of Bulger from the gangster talk to being a “loving” member of society and everything that falls in between. Depp is not the only star who excels in the film as Joel Edgerton is solid as John Connolly, who reminds us that the individuals at the FBI are the true gangsters. Even though they do not share a single similarity, Benedict Cumberbatch does as much as he can as Bulgar’s brother, Senator Billy Bulgar. Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rory Cochrane all give terrific little performances as Bulgar’s henchmen.

    Black Mass is a solid film and fans of Johnny Depp will rejoice that their favorite actor toned it down a bit. You will enjoy this film as long as you don’t compare it to Scorsese’s films. You are going to have the urge to do so and Black Mass will inevitable fail in the comparisons. So it is simple, enjoy the SCOTT COOPER film and lets rejoice together that Depp is back to entertaining.

  • It’s not always easy to tell the cops from the robbers, one character notes in Black Mass. How many gangster films have audiences seen that paralleled the feds to the criminals, the hierarchal politics, the means deployed that offer scant difference except one bears badges and good intentions.

    In Black Mass, there is a visual demarcation at play. The FBI agents resemble Kennedy wannabes with their three-piece suits and clean-shaven faces. The criminals, often branded street rats, come off like ferrety Nixons, blemished, bouldered or bloated, and ready to break out in a sweat. The first face we see is that of Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons), whose face seems smashed up even before any punches are thrown. Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), meanwhile, has a visage as puffed out as his paunch. Weeks and Flemmi are henchmen to Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, whose ascent from small-time hood to kingpin of the Bostonian badlands in the film.

    No one loves messing with his face more than Johnny Depp, who has emoted from the carapace of Kabuki make-up as Edward Scissorhands, the pomaded hair and pencil-thin mustache of Ed Wood, the cloud of clown orange hair of the Mad Hatter, and the rock-star glam of Captain John Sparrow. Pale, thin hair receding as if in fright, ghoulishly blue eyes, mouth in a permanent sneer, Depp’s Bulger is a fearsome figure and not because he’s all but a fang and fingernail away from transforming into Nosferatu. The film works hard to literalise Bulger into a demon but the effort is unnecessary. Depp’s Bulger intimidates because of the roiling energy harnessed within the stillness of his façade. He strikes without warning and often after he’s lulled you into safety. A dart of an eye is as threatening as his hand around your throat. It’s a very good performance, arguably the best Depp has delivered in quite a while, and it’s almost great but not quite.

    The same can be said for the film itself, which assiduously tracks the unlikely alliance between Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who proposes that Bulger become an informant for the bureau to help bring down the Angiulo crime family, who ruled Boston’s North End. If Bulger cooperates, then Connolly will ensure the FBI turns a blind eye to his South Side rackets. Bulger agrees but makes it clear that he is neither rat nor informant. This is strictly business. As Bulger explains to Flemmi, it’s a win-win deal – the FBI fights their wars and brings down their enemies while they have license to do whatever they want.

    Complications predictably arise. For one thing, Buger’s ambitions lead him into associations that leave him increasingly vulnerable to incrimination. Loose ends and potential threats are tied up and done away with in violent fashion. Bulger’s most loyal men slowly come to realise that their loyalty does not guarantee their safety. The more they know, the more they can tell and Bulger is not about to have his enterprise endangered by anybody.

    For Connolly, who grew up alongside Bulger in the streets of Boston, it is that very loyalty to the man who protected him from the neighbourhood bullies that binds and blinds him. [Connolly makes constant mention of his childhood ties to Bulger like some protective incantation.] He’s intent on shielding Bulger from his superiors, who make no secret of their uncertainty and displeasure but who allow their doubts to be pushed aside by the force of Connolly’s bluster. It should all be interesting and slightly shocking – how could Bulger have gotten away with so much, how will Connolly reconcile his hero worship with his own tainted actions – except it’s not.

    One can’t argue with the craftsmanship that went into the film. Director and former actor Scott Cooper, as he proved in Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, has a knack for eliciting complex performances from his actors. There’s a surfeit of talent here and each and every one gets a chance to shine. Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, and Juno Temple all etch memorable characterisations as the women who must contend with their men’s criminal activities.

    Black Mass is well-composed, well-scored, well-edited. Yet it’s not quite there. For all its narrative density, there is very little propulsion. The conflicts are understood rather than felt, and there is an overarching sense of déjà vu, which has less to do with Bulger’s tale having already been told in fictional form in The Departed than in Cooper’s evident thrall to the template established by both Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

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  • South Boston, or ‘Southie’, has been the subject of many a crime film over the past decade and a half. Movies like The Town, Southie, The Departed and even Good Will Hunting have striven to accurately portray one of the roughest neighbourhoods in the United States. But one notorious figure has yet to be portrayed on film; that of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Okay so not necessarily true, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was based on his crimes).

    Bulger (Johnny Depp) is the leader of the Winter Hill Gang in South Boston during the mid-1970s. He is well known in the community as both a gangster and a pillar of the community. His brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), a state senator, is contacted by their childhood friend John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), who is now a FBI agent who has been tasked with reducing Mafia activity in Boston. He sees Bulger as the key to bringing down this stranglehold they have. So Bulger becomes an informant, all the while continuing his own criminal activity.

    This success of this film hinges entirely on whether or not you find Depp’s performance as Bulger convincing. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t convinced. Yes, he is unnerving, but I wasn’t scared by him, which is the whole point. I think that they were relying on his makeup and new look to add to the performance but it did nothing for me. Outside of this, there isn’t too much going on. At a stretch you could say that the intrigue surrounding Bulger’s manipulation of the FBI is interesting, but not enough to be exciting.

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  • Mobster James “Whitey” Bulger” is pressed into service by childhood friend and FBI man John Connolly to be an FBI-sponsored informant in order to shut down the Boston mafia. Having done so, Bulger then uses his immunity to build his own criminal empire up.

    This true crime drama features impressive performances from Johnny Depp as Bulger, Joel Edgerton as Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s senator brother Mickey and, in fact, pretty much everyone in a fairly starry cast. It is grim, gritty, and very violent and, yet, not without some moments of genuine emotion. Depp’s Bulger is a monster, yet there are times when we feel real sympathy for him.

    Unfortunately, Black Mass (why is it called Black Mass? This is never made clear during the film) wants to be Goodfellas, but it isn’t. Despite the great performances, it suffers from an air of inconsequential rambling – there is little sense of urgency and, quite frankly, I got bored. Had it been 45 minutes shorter its events would have held my attention a lot better (there were a lot of shots of Rory Cochrane looking moody and troubled, all of which could have been trimmed to half their length, for instance).

    There seems to be a consensus that it is good to see Depp doing decent dramatic work after so long hiding behind funny teeth, hair and costumes, and I can understand this. It’s just a shame it’s not in a better film.

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