Mr Johnny Depp is no stranger to gangster movies. From Donnie Brasco and Blow to Public Enemies, he has experience of the world of big screen organised crime. Black Mass carries on this trend with Depp at the top of his game in this violent fact based drama from director Scott Cooper. He plays James “Whitey” Bulger, a Boston mob boss who used the FBI to get rid of his rivals. Joel Edgerton is the FBI agent who thinks he can keep Whitey on a leash and use him to further his career. Sounds good doesn’t it?
The first feeling I had when watching Black Mass was “this is a bit like Goodfellas but not as good”. You can probably stop reading now as that statement sums the film up pretty well. The makers have obviously been inspired by Martin Scorcese’s genre classic but by inviting the comparison it immediately reveals its shortcomings. There aren’t many scenes that blow you away or punch you in the gut like in the classic gangster films. It’s main selling point is Johnny Depp acting a creepy old bastard.
This leads me to the best thing about the movie – the fantastic cast. Big hitters like Depp, Kevin Bacon, and Benedict Cumberbatch are joined by up and comers such as Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll, and Adam Scott in his most notable dramatic role since his erotic part in Hellraiser 4. The female parts are limited to the wives of the main men but Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson make the best of what they’ve got. However it’s Depp we came to see and he’s excellent. I thought it would be another gimmicky Depp dressing-funny-with-a-weird-voice role but he actually brings Whitey chillingly to life. He looks like some kind of ancient vampire with his gaunt appearance and piercing blue eyes.
It’s a shame the writers and director haven’t put in as much effort to the main character as Depp has. We never really get into the head of the man meaning its Edgerton’s character that has a much more interesting story arc. Also the plot just skims the surface of what Bulger’s criminal empire actually did, only focussing on the crazy things Whitey did. Black Mass is a solid if uninspiring example of the true crime gangster genre. It’s inspirations are obvious and it fails to tread its own path, never emerging from the shadows of much better mob movies. Great performances and a good portrayal of Boston in the 70s and 80s mean Black Mass is worth a watch if you’re a fan of the genre or want to lose the crush you have on Johnny Depp.
What do you think of Black Mass? Have you ever been the head of a mafia-style criminal mob? Does the Boston accent make you giggle like it does me? Let me know in the comments below.