Scott Cooper’s bleak and atmospheric drama about real-life Boston mobster Whitey Bulger ushers in the 2016 awards season. It features a startling dramatic performance from Johnny Depp whose recent appearance in a spate of average movies from The Lone Ranger to Transcendence makes Black Mass especially gratifying.
Johnny Depp Black Mass

Depp’s pale, balding crime boss is an alarming sociopath. Masking his propensity for violence with a polite public image, Depp’s Bulger is well-liked in the community even after a stint in Alcatraz. The graphic acts of violence won’t shock anyone familiar with the work of Scorsese or Tarantino but by turning his camera upon the faces of complicit onlookers Cooper (Crazy Heart) ensures their weight is felt.

In spite of 2015’s finest comeback, Black Mass doesn’t get far beneath Bulger’s skin. Cooper is more interested in what it means to be a criminal cooperating with the Feds. This is Bulger seen through the eyes of his affiliates who speak to us across the interview room in intrusive close-up. Cooper fixates on Bulger’s own notorious connection with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton): a relationship that allows Bulger to eliminate rival gangs while continuing his own programme of shakedowns and drugs trafficking. It’s a riveting contradiction.

Police corruption documentary Precinct Seven Five plays out with more adrenaline and thrills than the stark and meditative Black Mass, while crime drama A Most Violent Year is more arrestingly stylish. Instead it’s the sheer volume of high calibre performances that make Black Mass an engrossing addition to the gangster genre.

 

VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★ 4/5

 

Certificate: 15
Running time: 84 minutes
Images: © 2015 – Warner Bros. Pictures

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