Black Mass stars an all-star cast – including Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, and Benedict Cumberbatch – and strives to tell the story of real-life gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. The film aims to tell the story of how Whitey (Johnny Depp) formed an alliance with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) which allowed Whitey to rise to the top of the underworld food chain, and lead to the arrest of La Cosa Nosta members in Boston.
But does it really succeed at what it aims for?
In the film, Connelly finds out that La Cosa Nosta plans to kill Whitey, and approaches his brother, Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), in an attempt to reach Whitey and offer him protection under the guise of an FBI informant. With their alliance made, the film follows Whitey’s rise in the underworld through a series of vignettes.
The almost random and wandering structure of the film leaves the audience with more questions about Whitey (and the rest of his gang, which is horribly underrepresented) than it answers. Whitey’s life would work far better as a television series than as a film.
Despite the problems with the narrative of the film, it does have positive attributes. The score by Junkie XL adds depth to scenes without bringing attention to itself. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s touch brings a loving, yet dark, feel to film. A palate of yellow and blue gives an unsettling touch to scenes, making locations typically seen as happy, like family kitchens and dinners, become places that are boiling over with unspoken resentment.
At the forefront of the positives is Johnny Depp in the lead role. Depp puts on his best performance to date in the film, mixing a cold and calculating demeanour with eyes that promise violence. It’s easy to forget that it’s Depp on the screen – his performance is a labyrinth to get lost inside.
Ultimately, Black Mass is a well-crafted film, but its story’s disjointed nature leaves much to be desired. Depp brings a performance for the ages, and it’s a shame that the filmmakers couldn’t bring the same level of commitment to Whitey Bulger’s life as Depp.