Director Scott Cooper led this much-acclaimed biopic on James “Whitey” Bolger last year, but no one was ready to predict how good the lead performance would turn out to be. So, is this gritty Boston tale worth checking out?
Rather than doing my usual structure of review, let’s just run right through this and start with why that leading role by Johnny Depp took everyone by surprise. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling sick of his recent roles, jumping and shouting around the screen in a funny hat and generally being a pain in the ass. “Dark Shadows” was a particularly low point in his career, so for him to take on a much more serious role? Turned out to be quite an excellent choice. He is unrecognisable as Whitey Bolger thanks in part to the make-up design, but also due to his reserved and dark performance. This is someone you’d never, ever want to be on the wrong side of, and Depp commands the entire show by being a quiet, but deadly gang lord with no fear.
The movie takes a large focus upon the connections the FBI had with Bolger, and actually makes for the most interesting aspect of the narrative. It is UNBELIEVABLE that only 30 years ago this shit was going on, where good intentions turned into blind collusion. Joel Edgerton playing the FBI Agent James Connolly is all kinds of wonderful. Brutally fixated on seeing his plan succeed, even when the shit has hit the fan and his workings have been dragged to the surface. Joel plays him with a great energy and a gang-style that in truth, does fit the character despite his position of authority.
Like most Mob-movies, the blood and guts are never too far away from the centre of the screen. But even in here, there is a particular visceral to the bloodshed, the kind that makes you clench in a very realistic fashion. This happens even with the issue that the movie is shot, well…. okay. It’s fine. Just nothing that makes you sit up and pay attention to the minute details. Like most films in this genre, they can get sucked into following a tried-and-trusted pattern rather than shaking things up. And that is the case here not just for the cinematography, but also the sense at times that the cast is a bit bloated. If you’re like me, you might find yourself wondering what each person’s intentions are, or even where their allegiances stand. At times it can be tricky to follow.
But, the source material is still wildly fascinating, seeing what seems like a fictional piece happen in reality is kind of mind-blowing. All the performances are perfectly solid (with Depp the unmistakable top of the deck), while there is enough of a pace to the story to keep you interested in where it will go. The procedural aspects were for me the most interesting, the personal plots with the gang were for the most part, fairly standard.
Fans of this genre will really dig “Black Mass”, and for the most part rightly so. It is held aloft so fucking well by the source material, and Johnny Depp showing us that when given the right script and the chance to play a serious role, he can really shine. If only his career path led him down this road more often than not, but oh well. I am sure plenty of people out there will enjoy this way more than I did, and for that, no hard feelings ladies and gents. It just didn’t grab me as much as I was expecting it to. Still very damm good and worth seeking out.
Thanks for reading!