London Film Festival: Black Mass, review

For the past few years, Johnny Depp hasn’t exactly taken himself seriously. Ever since playing John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, he’s gone from playing a hardcore criminal to a comical character in several films. It felt like he was becoming a parody of himself, but then came along Black Mass. A film where he really gets to flex his muscles, literally and figuratively. Within the first 10 minutes we see Depp’s James Whitey Bulger beating someone mercilessly and then take care of his son. It’s a heavy handed start to Black Mass, but it’s giving Depp an opportunity to prove that he is more three dimensional than we may have previously thought.


Black Mass is the story of the James Bulger and his rise in the crime world in the 70s. His main goal is to irradiate a mafia family who are invading his turf. To do this, he becomes an FBI informant, working with Detective John Connolly. The story is told through police questioning  key members of Bulger’s crew in the almost present day, telling the tale of all of his actions during his rise and battle with the mafia. Bulger has a lot to contend with on a day to day basis, his brother Billy is a state senator and his childhood friend, John Connolly, is the man from the FBI who wants to help.

In this image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Johnny Depp portrays Whitey Bulger in the Boston-set film, "Black Mass." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

It has the potential for a rich story, a criminal who has those close to him in positions of power within the government, both of which are trying to help him. But what we are left with is a fairly lacklustre telling of a notoriously violent and vicious criminal. The word generic feels like a fair way to describe this only okay movie. We have seen this all before: the criminal who is from a place like Boston, corruption within the police force, violence to prove a point, a main character who has both a life underhanded misdeeds whilst taking care of his family. What we do see is some stellar performances from the entire cast, Depp has certainly proved his acting chops are still just as solid as they have always been, and I like Joel Edgerton even more than I did when he appeared in Warrior and I can’t think of anyone who isn’t a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch.


It’s not all bad when it comes to the story. The politically corrupt are shown in their true colours as is the violence of this time and what you would need to do to get ahead in this sort of world, but there is some originality lacking from this true story. We have a more in-depth Depp, something we’ve not seen in years, but that’s as deep as this goes.

Keep. It. Reel.

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