Film review of the crime drama starring Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch. Review is from the Toronto Film Festival/TIFF, courtesy of Maysa Moncao.
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Oh, here he comes! Black Mass is Depp’s best film since Donnie Brasco. But have no illusions – he looks ugly.
Based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, the film establishes the tough world of South Boston in the 1970s. James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is a gangster in a family composed of Bill, a brother who used to be a state senator, (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a cute old mother with Italian-Irish origins. One of his best childhood friends, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), is an FBI agent. Is this enough to blast a whole city? Maybe not: we really needed Depp’s charisma in order not to transform this iconic figure into a perverted monster.
Whenever I see a Mafia or gangster movie, I try hard not to think immediately of Martin Scorsese, but most of the time I cannot help it. Of course, Black Mass would drive me straight to The Departed with a detour passing by Mean Streets. Everything is there: violence, Catholicism, guilt, corruption, police, street parades with immigrants, low life. Even “rats”. Do you remember Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, accusing DiCaprio’s character of being a rat? I can still feel the weight of his hand on my shoulder when he leaves DiCaprio behind.
Black Mass establishes a dialogue in terms of technique with some suspense movies. We know that long and narrow corridors work well to increase suspense in spectators. Think of The Shining, for example, or even The Untouchables. Well, once you see those long and narrow corridors in Bulger’s house you will immediately anticipate the following scenes.
Director Scott Cooper walks on the same mean streets as Scorsese, but he lights up with energy Depp’s career. For example, there is a reasonable explanation for the years Bulger becomes more violent. After all, he has lost his son, which by the way is similar to what happened with Ze Pequeno in City of God. In reality, those plot excuses work well for Depp. As he said in the press conference, it was important for him to play such an ambivalent role. Despite being a cruel criminal, Bulger is a loving father and also very concerned with his comrades’ well-being.
What may be difficult to understand is that deep/Depp inside there is no ambiguity to it. Neighbours and comrades may fear hitmen and gangsters, but they respect them because they depend on them. Somewhat they bring progress to their communities, especially when the only presence of the state in those communities is restricted to violent assassinations performed by policemen.
Coming back to the plot, Black Mass cleverly explains the connection between gangs in South Boston and the provision of weapons to the IRA. Remember what I said earlier? His brother is a state governor who came from Ireland.
You might ask me at the end of the former paragraph. “Well, if I have already seen Black Mass in those earlier movies, why should I run to the cinemas to watch it again?”. I would then answer back: “Why do you go to the beach whenever it is summertime again?”. Because it is good.
See the official trailer on Youtube.
USA, DRAMA, 2015, 122 MIN
DIRECTOR: SCOTT COOPER
WITH JOHNNY DEPP, JOEL EDGERTON, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, KEVIN BACON, DAKOTA JOHNSON
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER: Cooper is an actor, writer and director living in Los Angeles. His directing credits includes “Crazy heart” and “Out of the furnace”.