Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Jesse Plemons, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Johnny Depp doesn’t really manage to inject his character with the chill one would have expected
This is a biopic in the guise of a familiar generic thriller, about Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), the twisted, brutally violent gangster who came from humble beginnings to become one of the most reviled and pursued criminals in American criminal history. He begins his clandestine under-the-table operations in 1975 as the leader of a two-bit extortionist gang of Irish decent. When the much larger Italian mafia moves in on his turf and rumours of threats to eliminate him emerge, it becomes incumbent on Whitey to enter into a mutually beneficial truck with John Connolly, (Joel Edgerton), the FBI’s golden boy and his childhood mate — in order that actionable intelligence could be passed on to bring about the decimation of the mafia. Eventually, Whitey, whose own brother is a powerful State senator, Bill (Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes the biggest criminal, lording over Boston while openly defying law enforcement forces with brazen criminal acts. His fast and loose play with FBI puts him on their most wanted list.
Black Mass, though typical of Boston-based crime films of the past, has unique settings to lend it a different flavour.
Its depiction of organised crime is deglamorised and starkly visual. There’s a moral code underpinning the brutality of the mobsters and the softer touches (Whitey’s love for his mother and his son) appear as mere punctuations in a chronology of reprehensible criminal acts that pile on the discomfort without increasing the chill. And that’s a problem that crops up mainly because the writing and characterisations are thin and caricatured, while the motivations are never clear.
While Depp gets into the act, dressing it up to the hilt, he doesn’t really manage to inject it with the chill one would have expected. Scott tries to cram in as many events of criminality between 1975 and 1995, and as a result, doesn’t get deep enough to delve into the mental make-up of the lead characters in play here. Few glimpses of complexity are just not enough to deepen the involvement. So the entire experience is that of a sadistic voyeur unflinchingly sitting through a visual panoply of mayhem and murder.