An extreme case of cut-throat ambition is the focus of a biopic that hits the screens this month. Detailing the unlikely alliance between South Boston crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), Black Mass gives you two people from both sides of the law who found their way to fame (or infamy) and fortune by stepping over a trail of corpses.
It all started when Connolly proposed a collaboration to his childhood friend in 1975: If Bulger agreed to provide information on other gangs in the neighbourhood, the FBI would turn a blind eye on him and his illegal doings. For Connolly, having this exclusive insider source ensures he becomes a star at the Bureau. For Bulger, he gets the feds to take out his competition and, on top of that, a license to basically do whatever he pleases. Brilliant. But what about rule of law? Or the code of the streets? Forget it. These two aren’t going to let such trivia stop them on their quest for greatness.
Depp excels as the ruthless kingpin-slash-informant. Besides the unflattering physical transformation he goes through, including waxen skin and rotten teeth, his gaze acquires an icy, reptilian quality that believably turns victims of his terrorisation into a trembling mess on several occasions. Such psychologically potent scenes are the exception unfortunately, as director Scott Cooper is too busy relaying all the historical facts from over a decade of animalistic partnership. Savage, spiteful, and stranger than fiction, the film still makes for an interesting character study overall, even if a lot of nuance gets lost in its gleefully loud genre routines.
Black Mass | Directed by Scott Cooper (USA 2015) with Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch