Movie Review | Black Mass (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Freda Cooper 23.11.2015

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Black Mass (UK Rating: 15)

Johnny Depp's decline at the Box Office can be traced back to 2003 when he first played the role that's since stuck to him like super glue and, over time, cursed him. Captain Jack Sparrow has a lot to answer for; it was a role that made the actor appear lazy - he even likened his Tonto in the Lone Ranger fiasco to the long-haired pirate - and also seemed to put the mockers on a career that was promising big things.

Not that he's completely jettisoned Sparrow - there's another Pirates of the Caribbean movie scheduled for 2017 - but, for now, Depp has put away his cutlass and entered the sombre world of Director Scott Cooper in Black Mass, which is released this week. Cooper has just two films under his belt, the first being Jeff Bridges' Oscar winner, Crazy Heart (2009), and the other the scenery-chewing Out of the Furnace (2013), with heavyweights like Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson. In Black Mass, his mood doesn't seem to have improved.

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Set in Boston, the film tells the true story of James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Irish-American gangster who turned police informant and exploited that arrangement to the hilt for years. Once his duplicity, and the extensive corruption that went with it, was revealed, he went on the run, avoiding capture for 16 years, but the film concentrates on his relationship with the police and his younger brother, a high-ranking Boston politician.

Bulger loathed his nickname, which referred to his blonde hair, and nobody used it in his presence. Depp's Bulger has the look of a vampire, with dark shadows under his cold, pale blue eyes, making him look like he never gets any sleep. His hair is slicked back and he has an almost deathly pallor, almost as if he never goes outside unless it's absolutely necessary. His looks may be sinister, but the man himself is far worse. He's a genuine monster, thinking nothing of getting somebody else to do his dirty work but equally untroubled by doing it himself, and it is clear when somebody's been added to his hit list, because he smiles at them.

His attitude to women is even more disturbing, and some of the best moments are when he's in female company. Watch his scenes with his girlfriend and mother of his little boy, Lindsey (Dakota Johnson), and later with Marianne (Julianne Nicholson), wife of FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). With elderly women like his mother, he's a pussy cat - helpful and kind - but with younger ones, there's a thinly veiled threat just below the surface, and it is profoundly unsettling.

Once again, Cooper has gone for an alpha male cast. Alongside Depp and Edgerton (seen recently in Life), there are Benedict Cumberbatch (as his brother, Billy), Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons (also in The Program) and more, but, essentially, it's Depp's film with his extraordinary appearance and skin- crawling menace, although there are times when Edgerton's loud, brash cop comes close to matching him.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Having played a more traditional 1930s-esque gangster in Michael Mann's Public Enemies (2009), Depp gives a far more sinister turn in Black Mass, one that verges on the disturbing. He is, in truth, more consistent than the film itself, which suffers from taking its time one time too often, undermining any attempts at suspense. It still manages to pack a punch, though, with nods in the direction of gangster classics, and will easily satisfy fans of the genre - and of Depp himself.

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