REVIEW: ‘Black Mass’

An unrecognizable Johnny Depp isn’t the only thing you’ll be chatting over when you watch this movie.

I generally like to know more about the movies I’m watching before I go into the theatre, but this time, I left the storytelling to the actors of Black Mass, which is directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart).

Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch, the movie tells the story of James “Whitey” Bulger, the man whose ‘special relationship’ with the FBI launched him into a crime boss everyone in most of Boston came to fear between the 70’s and the 80’s.

Many people – critics and audiences alike – have been touting this movie as the performance that’ll get Depp one of those beautiful gold statues (read: an Oscar win). Depp has felt the ‘close, but no cigar’ sting three times (Sweeny Todd, Finding Neverland and Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), but did win a Golden Globe for Sweeny Todd. 

After watching this movie, I can rally behind an Oscar win for Depp.

I feared I’d be watching Depp playing a character named Whitey Bulger. What I actually saw was Whitey Bulger, played by Johnny Depp. It’s one of the few cases where I’ve felt as though the character comes first; the actor second.

And that’s not the only performance that had me enamoured with this film. I have been an enormous fan of Joel Edgerton. I had a love-hate relationship with his Tom Buchanan character a la Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gastby. I’ve cheered him on as the movie he directed and starred in earlier this year (The Gift) was received with critical acclaim. But this time around, I found myself disgusted with his character – and the things John Connolly did while working with the FBI and while working as Bulger’s, um, handler (I would argue Bulger handled him, but that discussion is for another day). You could say Edgerton, in my opinion, did his job.

One point of concern I had going in was over the kind of violence we were going to see. I am okay with violence in a movie, so long as the context/theme/story calls for it. You’re dealing with a story about a crime lord here, so you know you’re going to see some blood. Every scene involving such was done well.

If I could fault one thing, perhaps it was some of the post production. Some scenes went on a little too long; others had me asking for more. Some scenes – like the Miami Beach, Florida clubbing scene – went on a little too long – and I got so wrapped up in my annoyance with it that I almost missed an important part of plot praying for the scene to hurry up and finish.

For what its worth,  the movie is being called ” a fantasy” by at least one of the real-life gangsters, Kevin Weeks (played by Jesse Plemons in the film). Whitey Bulger himself, according to his lawyer, has said he’s not impressed with it. 

The good news is, this movie almost absolves Depp for the sins he committed by starring in flops like Transcendence, Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger (just to name a few). It isn’t my favourite performance from him (other movies like Edward Scissorhands, Sweeny Todd, Cry-Baby and Donnie Brasco easily had me on Team Depp), but would I put my money on his performance in Black Mass getting an Oscar nod? Definitely.

My verdict: go see it in the theatres – but only if you’re up for something violent, brooding and based (some would argue loosely) on a true story.

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