I’ve learned that anticipation can occasionally be the enemy of awareness, a lesson that I discovered while watching Black Mass. As a member of the film nerd mafia, I desperately wanted this film to answer one buzzing question - does Johnny Depp still possess the acting chops he held prior to Pirates of the Caribbean? It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie or not, because the answer is dead obvious: yes.
Depp shines as James “Whitey” Bulger (or Jimmy, as we are encouraged to call him), an unpredictable and ice-cold gangster who prowls the waters of the story like a great white shark, manifesting his fearless and violent nature at the sign of any given threat. As he dives into the depths of this real-life Boston gangster, he is completely unrecognisable and genuinely frightening, receiving assistance from the talented makeup artists of the film. While Black Mass is designed as a vehicle for Johnny Depp, the ensemble cast further seduces you to go see the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch and Joel Edgerton morph into their roles as Jimmy’s allies, while Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott perfectly suit their roles as detectives from the 70s. It goes without saying that the cast is what drives the power of the film.
The film, however, does suffer from a weak screenplay that fails to maintain the interest it should. While the film had a strong start and established the characters effectively, the second act mysteriously lacked the tension and controlled pacing that was present in the first thirty minutes. While the premise of a gangster who allies with the FBI to strengthen is own power is genuinely interesting, the film reminded me how movies that are “based on a true story” should be treated with caution.
The other noteworthy, and perhaps admirable, element of Black Mass is its unapologetic tribute to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The intersection between criminal activity, family life and the ever-looming threat of the FBI all tread familiar territory, while the values of integrity, camaraderie and fortitude make the film feel like a modern day Goodfellas with differences in plot and cast. While I might question Black Mass’s decision not to use contemporary music, I should remind myself of the never-ending difficulties imposed by music copyright. Although I feel like a bit of a nitpicker, I am happy to crown Black Mass as Johnny Depp’s redemption, even if the story fails to match the spectacular cast.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆