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Black Mass (Johnny Depp) - DVD Review

Black Mass

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JOHNNY Depp reserves some of his best work for the crime genre, whether playing the undercover cop to Al Pacino’s world-weary crook in Donnie Brasco or taking on the role of iconic gangster John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. For Black Mass, he tackles another notorious criminal, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and once again excels.

Scott Cooper’s film examines the remarkable true story of how Bulger was able to build a criminal empire while on the payroll of the FBI. And while it does contain many generic elements of crime films past, from Goodfellas to The Godfather, it also serves as a sly expose of the bonds that exist between men and how power can entice and corrupt absolutely.

Set in South Boston during the ’70s and ’80s, the story charts the rise of Bulger and his unlikely accomplices: primarily, FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who first proposes the alliance with Bulger and who subsequently recruits him as an informant to take down the Italian Mafia, but also Bulger’s politician brother (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose own rise to prominence was doubtless assisted by his sibling’s connections and reputation.

Just as he did with previous film Out Of The Furnace, Cooper gives his characters the chance to breathe, thereby drawing out some outstanding performances.

Depp is on towering form, virtually unrecognisable in his physical and emotional transformation of a self-made monster. With a steely cold gaze, Depp’s Bulger has an uncanny ability to instil fear in those he deals with, whether it’s turning a dinner party conversation into a hideous threat, or casting a one-off glance into the unwitting eye of a future victim.

He is calculated and ruthless, yet equally driven and enigmatic and the film duly thrives whenever it’s in his company.

But Edgerton is equally compelling as the FBI agent who forged a career on his loyalty to Bulger, no matter how blindly misguided his devotion to protecting his ‘friend’ became. It’s a fascinating study into a male relationship born from violence and fuelled by mystique. And it contains some marvellous contradictions.

There’s strong support, too, from the likes of Cumberbatch, as Bulger’s brother; Corey Stoll, as the dogged FBI boss who eventually put a stop to Connolly’s partnership; Kevin Bacon, as another FBI head, and Peter Sarsgaard, as one of Bulger’s many accomplices.

Cooper also deserves a lot of credit for juggling the story’s many elements, even if he does lose sight of the female component: ie, the role played by the women in these men’s lives (not least Bulger’s mother, or his wife, played fleetingly by Dakota Johnson). But even if that feels like a criticism, it’s not one that detracts too heavily from the main themes at play.

For at its heart, Black Mass is far more interested in examining the role of masculinity within the gangster psyche, while also casting its gaze on the absurdity of a justice system that allowed such a violent enterprise to continue unchecked for so long.

As such, it’s a superior genre entry: gritty, gripping, cold-hearted yet utterly mesmerising.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 118mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: March 21, 2016