Black Mass review: the best fake Martin Scorsese film of the year

Johnny Depp is convincing, and the tale is told with energy, but there’s little new in this based-on-fact story of Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger

Johnny Depp as James ’Whitey’ Bulger in Black Mass, “a very convincing Southie psychopath”

Film Title: Black Mass

Director: Scott Cooper

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane

Genre: Crime

Running Time: 122 min

Wed, Nov 25, 2015, 16:00

   

Obviously, we celebrate the fact that, for the first time in aeons, Johnny Depp isn’t essaying a variation of Widow Twankey. He has certainly slapped on the make-up to play James “Whitey” Bulger, Irish-American crime boss of Boston, but at no point is he seen balancing on a barrel while impersonating Tommy Cooper. Barely recognisable in bad leather jacket, grey teeth, bleached contacts and receding hair, Depp delivers a very convincing Southie psychopath. (Why are Irish gangsters always so filthy in the movies?)

Unfortunately, the script allows little shade to the character. He has one good scene where he congratulates his little son on being reprimanded for walloping a school chum. But, for the most part, Whitey is in the same state of closed-in derangement.

Let’s be frank. What we have here is the best fake Martin Scorsese film of the year (always an overcrowded genre). Indeed, William Monahan drew on the Bulger story when adapting Infernal Affairs into The Departed. Joel Edgerton is strong as John Connolly, the FBI man who concocted a dubious conspiracy with Bulger’s mob: if the Irish hoodlums deliver the Mafia, they will be allowed to kill and rob with relative impunity. It soon transpires that Bulger is buying this indulgence with chickenfeed and lies.

One can sense Scott Cooper’s film straining not to be a Scorsese film, but almost everything else is in place: the shots to the back of the head; the angrily excluded women; the dubious glamour of organised violence. There are worse things than an energetic cover version.