Black Mass review: Johnny Depp almost redeems himself, but the film disappoints

Mihir Fadnavis

Sep 20, 2015 13:45:21 IST

It’s been a while since Johnny Depp delivered a genuinely good movie. Ever since Jack Sparrow became a global box office phenomenon, Depp has only done movies in which he gets to wear garish makeup and deliver over the top performances. Barring Sweeney Todd, nothing he’s done in the past decade demonstrates his credibility as one of the most famous Hollywood stars or all time. His role in the new film Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, is a small step towards redemption, but unfortunately, it’s not a very interesting film.

Black Mass review: Johnny Depp almost redeems himself, but the film disappoints

Johnny Depp in Black Mass.

Everything about Black Mass has been done before, in much better ways. This is a gangster film that packs every single cliché in it. The crazed protagonist persona aided by makeup? Check. The Boston accent? Yup. The Irish connection? Present. A few misogynist lines and scenes? Done. Loyal henchmen? Of course. Double-crossing henchmen who get their desserts served to them? Naturally. The central gangster on a tirade of cops vs robbers? Sure.

Of course, Cooper may argue that the film is based on a real life gangster in Boston, so these elements would be present in Black Mass, but then it would be fair for the audience to expect the story use these elements in a compelling way. Instead, we get the same old frosty and sleek cinematography that reflects that era in America.

The gangster in question here is James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) who becomes an informant to the FBI during the ’70s and ’80s. He bribes a few top FBI officials, gets his own named cleared and generally goes around killing adversaries, so that he can be Boston’s top mob boss. His partner in this is the corrupt FBI official, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who can’t forget how Whitey and his brother Senator William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) were good to him when they were all kids.

Bulger murders people, peddles drugs and launders money, while Connolly pulls up names of Bulger’s rivals and sends them to his superiors as ‘information’ from Bulger. The runtime follows montage upon montage of Bulger whacking out the competition, weeding out rats and getting rich, leading to the inevitable arrest.

With a cast like that you’d expect some magnetic performances, but that never happens. The characters are underplayed to a fault. Edgerton barely registers a shred of sympathy from the audience while Cumberbatch is so sedate one wonders why he was chosen for such a minor role. His beautiful deep booming British voice makes way for a fake Boston accent that is just painful to the ears.

Bulger inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, and because Nicholson chew and spat that part out, Depp’s version seems almost comically feeble. Here, Depp’s slicked hair, fake blue eyes and makeup do all the acting. There is little that is threatening or manipulative about Bulger. You never get to know why he became a gangster or what he became on the run – the film plays out like a checklist of things to expect from a mob boss drama and ends just when things start to get interesting. Even the 2009 Michael Mann film Public Enemies had Depp playing a mob boss, but with far more enthusiasm.

Cooper made a similar set of faux pas in Out of the Furnace, starring Christian Bale. Evidently, he’s better at getting stars than telling stories.

Updated Date: Sep 20, 2015 13:47:59 IST

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