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Black Mass
Genre Crime
 
Review:

Black Mass is the true crime story of James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger Jr., a notorious American criminal, who haunted the world's most wanted list for years. The violent South Bostonian crime boss, and brother to a state senator, became an FBI informant to crack down on the Mafia family, whose operations were getting in the way. We're supplanted in the years he "collaborated" with the FBI.

The brutal character has been brought to life by an almost unrecognisable Johnny Depp, whose sterling career has been peppered by a number of hit-and-miss films lately. He's largely redeemed himself with a cold-blooded and intimidating performance as Bulger, balding and blue-eyed, behind the sunglasses of a madman and mastermind.

Depp appears to be portraying Ray Liotta when it comes to the role, which would've resonated better with a younger Ed Harris . The cold blue eyes, the Boston drawl and even some of the mannerisms make it seem like more than a theory. Although, in all honesty, Ray Liotta could have played just about every male character in Black Mass. Perhaps Bulger inspired Liotta, who's had his fair share of crime thrillers, or maybe Depp took his cues from the actor, after being inspired by Keith Richards for the role of Captain Jack Sparrow.

This is an actor's movie and Depp is surrounded by a number of Hollywood talents, including Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard and Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother Billy. Edgerton plays opposite Depp as his unaware inside man at the FBI, finding his tips invaluable to his career, and casting a blind eye in exchange.

Edgerton has put on weight for the snaky role of John Connolly, turning in a complex Nixon balancing act of a performance, bending the system to his advantage to make good on a favour from his childhood. The ensemble is chock-full of recognisable character actors and solid supporting performances.

Director Scott Cooper brought us Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace. He's continued the serious and heavy dramatic tone into Black Mass, giving this sprawling crime thriller an epic quality. While not quite in the same league, Black Mass will draw comparisons with The Departed... not only for its Boston setting, but for the strength and depth of the cast and co-lead dynamic.

The film isn't geared towards action, but tends to highlight some intense and violent moments, usually involving Whitey. The maniac's unpredictable edge is what creates tension in moments when he's shooting the breeze and looking after his kid. You're never sure if he's joking or about to snap and that keeps an air of excitement around Depp's uncharacteristic performance.

As a gangster crime drama thriller, there isn't much new to report. It finds itself drifting somewhere between Run All Night and The Departed. Beyond Depp's reinvention, Black Mass gets by on: complex characters, curious paradoxes, sturdy performances, sure-footed direction and a brazen attitude.

The bottom line: Compelling


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