Black Mass (2015) Netflix

January 6th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Scott Cooper | Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott | 122min  Crime Thriller  US

In Scott Cooper’s Boston gangland thriller Johnny Depp plays vicious psychopath Whitey Bulger who, like his English counterparts the Kray Brothers, was also very fond of his mother.

This is Scott Cooper’s first foray into the big time and he handles it competently – if not a little derivatively – largely due to a strong cast of talent in which Depp is the star turn. This is a saga of multiple murder, revenge and betrayal underpinned by a long-standing relationship between gangland boss Bulger and his childhood mate John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who for many years leads the unsuccessful police investigation into the capture of the arch felon.

With scrappy nicotine-tinged hair, brownish teeth and an icy stare that embodies evil, Depp provides compelling viewing as the terrifying James “Whitey” Bulger, a criminal who menaced everyone who knew him around South Boston from the 1970s until 1994, when he went into hiding for nearly 16 years before finally being run to ground in California. In his weak defence, he claimed to be ‘in league’ with the Feds to rid Boston on the Italian mafia.

The action sequences are intercut with interview testimonials given by members of Bulger’s mob to provide a tightly-scripted and absorbing account of events and add superb structure to the storyline. It emerges that Bulger was a long-term criminal in ‘Southie’ (South Boston) and also served time in Alcatraz. His enemies, the Angiulo family of North Boston, are the reason the FBI, under the auspices of John Morris (David Harbour) and Connolly, eventually persuade Bulger to secretly team up against their mutual enemy and this provides Bulger with an opportunity to flex his muscles largely without interuption until Corey Stoll (a masterful Fred Wyshak) takes over as a federal prosecutor determined to nail Bulger, once and for all.

The ubiquitous but stalwart Benedict Cumberbatch finds his way into the storyline as Whitey’s brother Billy who happens to be Massachusetts’ most powerful state senator. There is also a brief cameo role for Dakota Johnson as his steely wife and mother to Whitey’s only child, a six-year-old boy who dies from an allergic reaction to an injection.

Cooper’s production looks slick and authentic with some excellent interior sequences as well as plenty of shootouts in the rainy streets of a seventies Boston provided by Masanobu Takayanagi’s well-crafted cinematography. In support roles, Adam Scott and Kevin Bacon are stern and long-suffering as federal agents in this war against an enemy which seems to come from all directions. But this is ultimately Depp’s film and he gives a commanding performance that is one of the most convincing of his career. A charismatic seventies score from Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Hermann would have put some icing on this rather bland cake, but that is sadly too much to expect here. MT


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