A lot has been made of Johnny Depp’s return to a ‘serious’ role.
In Black Mass, he portrays James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, the violent gangster boss that made South Boston his own in the late 70s and 80s.
It’s true, Depp is decent enough.
Heavy layers of makeup, piercing blue eyes and slicked back thinning hair; he certainly looks the part, adopting an unnerving appearance, well in keeping with the apparently sinister nature of the man.
Whitey was a small time gangster that got a taste for the big time and thanks to fellow ‘Southy’ (South Boston) resident and childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) – who had worked his way up to a significant level within the FBI – an arrangement is reached by which Whitey supplies Connolly with all that he needs to take down Boston’s existing Italian mafia. In return, Connolly agrees to turn a blind eye to Whitey’s on-going ‘small time’ antics.
Of course, with the Boston Mafia now shut down and out of the picture, the way is clear for Whitey’s mob to take full advantage and expand their operations throughout Boston and beyond safe in the knowledge that the FBI will not interfere. This is something altogether more problematic for Connolly, particularly when a new head of FBI operations takes up the reins and starts to make waves.
Whitey’s kingdom is suddenly in jeopardy and there’s a very real possibility that everything’s going to start crumbling around him.
Director Scott Cooper seems to have approached this project from the Scorcese school of direction. No bad thing of course, but it’s all a bit Goodfellas-lite. Yes, it tackles key themes like violence, treachery and a growing sense of paranoia but ultimately, it never really brings anything new of note to the table.
More than ever a film such as this needs a real unique angle from which to approach the subject matter, or at the very least a good number of memorable set pieces that burn into the old grey matter.
Despite such negative overtones, Black Mass is in fact perfectly watchable. It’s well paced and engaging, with decent support performances from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard and Kevin Bacon, to name but a few, but like so many before it, it’s in many ways on a hiding to nothing.
Since the likes of Coppolla, Scorcese and Leone left their indelible mark on the epic gangster / crime caper genre, it’s hard to think of many or indeed any that have truly hit those heady heights and remained long in the memory.
Yes, there are memorable moments; they’re just not memorable enough to help Black Mass to really stand out.
On a particularly positive note, it’s an absolutely immaculate 1970s/80s retro set / clothing-fest for those of us that happen to be fans of the architectural and design trends of that era…
Probably just me then.