Wednesday 30 March 2016

Black Mass

In 2011, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives was captured after 16 years on the run…at the time of his arrest, he was 81 years old. The man in question was James “Whitey” Bulger, a now-convicted murderer and former organized crime boss of the Winter Hill Gang in Boston. Through the 70s and 80s, Bulger was the King of Boston – ruling over his land with violence, extortion and narcotic distribution. But throughout that time, he carried a secret – he was an FBI informant. Now, years after his arrest, comes the long-awaited big-screen version of his life. This is Black Mass.

Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Black Mass stars a near-unrecognisable Johnny Depp as the notorious crime lord. Based on the 2001 true-crime book of the same name, the film begins in 1975 and finishes up with Bulger’s 2011 arrest – suffice to say, this film is packed. But very rarely does Black Mass feel rushed. The plot is a thoroughly engrossing gangster story and although it’s nothing hugely fresh, it’s still edge-of-the-seat stuff. I don’t know enough about the true story to comment on accuracy but from what I have read, it doesn’t seem too bad – and at the end of the day, it isn’t a history lesson. It’s a crime thriller. And thrill it does. 

This is a film that truly belongs to Johnny Depp. Calling it his favourite film he’s been in yet, Black Mass is absolutely 110% Depp’s finest work to date. As the violent and unpredictable gangster, Depp delivers a chilling performance and steals every single scene he’s in. Hell, you can’t take your eyes off him. And not in the usual way his fans can’t take their eyes off him…Here, you can’t look away out of fear. But despite this, the film isn’t an all-out Depp movie – this is a film of two leads. While some would argue it’s an ensemble piece, the film’s plot really boils down to two characters. Bulger, of course, and John Connolly. Portrayed by Joel Edgerton, Connolly is the FBI agent who recruits Bulger as an informant and begins an agent-informant friendship with him, ultimately getting himself too deep into the criminal underworld of Boston. Edgerton is fantastic here too, holding his own against Depp – a feat that many actors would struggle with up against a performance that good.

That said, I can understand the argument that Black Mass is an ensemble piece. The cast is stuffed full of talent, including Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, W. Earl Brown, Corey Stoll and Kevin Bacon. Even Benedict Cumberbatch shows up to play the other Bulger brother, Boston’s senator William Bulger – but seeing Cumberbatch attempting to play a guy from Boston is a little uncomfortable. And the 2 hour run-time, cut down from an initial 3, means some characters don’t get a lot to do – and the film almost suffers for it. Pacing is a minor issue here from time-to-time, but before you know it, Depp has commanded your attention again with his hypnotic performance and you forget what you were thinking just like…wait, what was I talking about?

Director Scott Cooper, known for Crazy Heart and Out Of The Furnace, creates a hauntingly dark and eerie atmosphere throughout Black Mass which, along with Depp’s performance, makes the film stand out alongside the countless other gangster films of recent memory. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s visuals are beautifully and fittingly bleak, and the frequent reminder of the setting makes Boston a character in itself. Special mention should also go to Tom Holkenborg’s elegant and moody score that only strengthens this atmospheric experience.

Black Mass is without doubt one of the finest crime films of recent years, led by Depp’s finest performance to date. Any other year, he would’ve been a serious Oscar contender. But this was DiCaprio’s year – if anybody beat him, there would’ve been riots. Still, this is a thoroughly engrossing film that demands your attention throughout and will leave you in stunned silence right through the end credits.

Black Mass is an incredible film and now that it’s available to own, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. 4/5.


Sam Love

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