Film review – Black Mass

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Johnny Depp offers a riveting performance in Black Mass as James “Whitey” Bulger, an Irish mobster. This movie, based on the true life of Whitey Bulger, follows the relationship he has with FBI Agent John Connolly as they team up to take down a mutual enemy: the Italian mob. Black Mass chronicles this relationship which is an abomination in the eyes of the law, as is described by Agent Connolly’s superiors in the FBI.

As an Irish mobster in South Boston during the 1970s, Bulger is battling the ever-encroaching Italian mob. His faction is steadily competing with the Italians for customers, property and good old fashioned power and control. Before his reign can even begin, he is apprehended by the FBI, but his saving grace comes in the form of a childhood friend, FBI Agent John Connolly. Connolly, self-detrimentally sympathetic to Bulger, offers a deal. With the Italian mob at the peak of the FBI’s most-wanted list, Connolly proposes that Bulger divulge mob information for his freedom. Any run-of-the-mill mobster would have immediately declined the informant offer, as this would have given them the most detested label in mob culture: ‘rat’. Bulger, however, saw this not as an abominable act of “snitching” but as a grand business opportunity, of which he takes full advantage.

While all of this is going on, Whitey’s brother, Billy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), is in a race to become senator of Massachusetts, which is rendering Whitey almost untouchable. When this couples with Agent Connolly’s reluctance to prosecute Whitey, Whitey Bulger is able to usurp power in South Boston as the Italian mob is wiped out by authorities.

Johnny Depp has brought some… interesting characters to life, to say the least. From the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow to the melancholy Edward Scissorhands to the Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter… these characters are quite unique, and exist in a fantasy-filled, magical universe where the laws of physics do not apply. But, I would never have guessed that Depp would ever take on portraying a dead-eyed, cold-blooded murderous mobster… and do such an amazing job. In addition to a heavy Boston accent, Johnny Depp is transformed by facial prosthetics, contact lenses, and an amazingly convincing bald cap and wig. The ethereal vision of a lady-killer that is Johnny Depp disappears and is unrecognisable beyond this sociopathic evil being that is Whitey Bulger.

This is definitely a star role of Johnny Depp’s career, but Black Mass itself might not find it so easy to find a home in the classic mobster movie collection of The Godfather or Goodfellas. Although it is quite a thrilling tale of a small-time criminal’s rise to boss status, the movie is not told as poetically as its legendary predecessors. The main theme of mob movies is blood-and-honor, and even though the acts of the protagonist are criminal, they have a meaning that are greater than themselves and you find yourself rooting for them anyway.

I didn't find the same themes in Black Mass; however this doesn't mean it wasn't a good mob movie…just not AS good. It’s earned a 4/5 rating from me. Why not 5/5? Simply because this movie could have been better.

The world knows how good a mob movie can be, and Black Mass simply does not live up to its predecessors, which are argued as some of the best films of all time! This is an epic story that I feel could have been told more poetically. BUT, Johnny Depp’s performance is definitely worth seeing! It blew my mind. You’ll probably also be on the edge of your seat wondering what’ll happen to him after the FBI neutralises the Italian mob, wondering just how far he’ll go to secure his position on top of South Boston’s crime world. How far will his FBI buddy go to protect him? How much power is enough power? How many bodies are too many? Will his brother win the senate seat? Will the FBI catch Whitey? You’ll be dying to know!

Marcus Garlington lives at Liberty Court in London, he is from Kansas City in Missouri, and is in his 2nd year studying Journalism at City University London.

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