Barton’s Movie Reviews BFI London Film Festival Special – BLACK MASS

My final venture to the London Film Festival this year was to see Black Mass and despite hearing not such positive things, I still had high expectations for this film. Unfortunately, Black Mass ends up being another case of a fantastic performance in a not so fantastic film. 

James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) is regarded as one of the most notorious gangsters in United States history and headed the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang in South Boston for a number of years. 

In 1975, Bulger struck a deal with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton); a native of South Boston and friend of Bulger and his brother, Senator William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), to become an informant for the Bureau. 

In return, Bulger wanted the FBI to take down his rivals, the Angiulo Brothers, who were connected to the Mafia and formed direct competition over territory for the Winter Hill Gang.

With the film focusing on one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history, Black Mass had the chance to be this generation’s Goodfellas. It just doesn’t feel as if they took full advantage of that opportunity and at times, Scott Cooper’s film feels like a Goodfellas wannabe. Then you realise that nobody does Scorsese quite like Scorsese.

Black Mass feels bloated and at two hours long, ends up dragging towards the end. Lacking the style of other gangster films such as Goodfellas or even Legend from earlier in the year, I was a little relieved when the end credits started to roll. Not that Black Mass is by any means a terrible film, because it isn’t and there is still a good film to be seen here.

At the centre of the film is a brilliant performance from Johnny Depp. As Bulger, Depp blows away the cobwebs and delivers a performance that might be one of my favourites of the year so far. Depp’s filmography has been rather goofy in more recent years but in Black Mass, he more than makes amends for that. Depp, under a load of prosthetic make-up, is intimidating as the the cold-blooded Bulger.

It’s a shame though that the only other actor who raises their game in Black Mass is Joel Edgerton as FBI agent Connolly. Considering the cast that Cooper has at his disposal, the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Corey Stoll and Jesse Plemons all feel underused and it plays a part in holding Black Mass back from being great.

The score from Junkie XL a.k.a. Tom Holkenborg is one of note and shows complete contrast to his score for Mad Max: Fury Road earlier in the year, a sign that he has a future in composing film scores for sure. I also really liked the production design by Stefania Cella, her work really bringing 1975 Boston to life amidst Bulger’s criminal activities.

While Black Mass is certainly a return to form for Johnny Depp, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed when I think about the film as a whole. But please, Mr Depp, more roles like this in the future would be very welcome.

Verdict: ★★★½

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