Thanks to Roadshow Films we had the chance to see Black Mass prior to its Australian cinematic release. This is our review of the film, but – as usual – no matter what we say, we recommend that you still go to your local cinema and see the film because there is no better critic than yourself.
Based on true events and on the book with the same name, Black Mass tells the story of Boston crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his alliance with the FBI, as their so-called informant for more than 20 years before going on the run to become the FBI’s most wanted man.
FBI rising star and Boston local John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) returns back to his home town assigned with the task of bringing down the Italian mafia in the city. Assuming ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, Connolly convinces his old school friend, Irish crime boss Bulger, to sign on as an FBI informant to bring down their mutual enemy. Here begins their unholy alliance and the deal with the devil (this where the title gets its meaning) which sees the FBI turn a blind eye to all of Bulger’s criminal acts, even to the point of providing him tip-offs.
What makes the film so captivating and enthralling is not just that this happened, but that it went on for decades. In addition to this already unbelievable mixture Bulger’s brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) was also a Senator and the most powerful politician in Massachusetts at the time. If they weren’t based on fact, the tip-offs and brazen executions that Bulger got away with would be too far-fetched for a fictional screenplay.
Director Scott Cooper, who has previously directed ‘Crazy Heart’ and ‘Out of the Furnace,’ has created a gritty, intense film. The biggest trump card of the film is certainly the ensemble cast Cooper has brought together. All the supporting cast including Kevin Bacon, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Dakota Johnson and Corey Stoll lift the film to higher level than it may have been had there only been one or two A-listers in the cast.
There is no possible way to talk about the film without talking about Johnny Depp. He is fantastic as Bulger, once you get accustomed to his look; until this point you may be thinking why they didn’t just cast someone with blue eyes to start with. Contacts and facial prosthetics aside Depp plays the role with perfect restraint and intensity, with ‘’less is more” perfection we haven’t seen from him in quite a few years. Particularly during the steak dinner and following scene, Depp is grotesque and terrifying. But behind his ice blue contacts you can see he is also having so much fun in this particular scene; as Bulger himself would most definitely have.
Joel Edgerton is also excellent but he is fast becoming a member of that elite acting club where we expect him to be so. He plays Connelly with such a warped sense of loyalty and ambition that he too soon begins to see himself as above the law. Edgerton even nails the Boston accent, without ever going into the Ted OTT zone.
Despite the solid story and fantastic acting Black Mass is a little formulaic, jumping from murder to murder, and lacks that extra something to put it in the same league as Scorsese crime masterpieces like Goodfellas or The Departed (Nicholson’s character in the latter was actually based on Whitey Bulger). Also all the main protagonists are criminals in some way, so there is not really any strong moral leads to root for, until Corey Stoll’s character is introduced toward the end of the film. For some viewers this could make it an unlikable movie experience until this point.
All in all, Black Mass is extremely captivating and Depp has redeemed himself as box office bait. Black Mass will be released nationally on 8 October.