Saturday, January 16, 2016

Black Mass (2015)

Director: Scott Cooper
Writers:  Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth, Dick Lehr, Gerard O'Neill
Cast:      Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Rory Cochrane

The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down an Italian Mafia family invading his turf.

Jack Nicholson's character in 'The Departed' was loosely based on Bulger and it was as if Scorsese decided to add another layer to an already excellent 'Infernal Affairs', the original Hong Kong film, from which it was adapted. I found the result to be quite half-baked with it doesn't making much sense in the end when it is revealed as a twist that Jack Nicholson was an FBI informant. Black Mass is the definitive Whitey Bulger film but it is largely told from the perspective of Joel Edgerton's FBI agent character. He is the character that audience could relate to and is someone who grew up in South Boston with Whitey and his gang and feels a loyalty towards him. He helps in setting up a deal for Whitey to become an FBI informant and while all others spill the beans on Whitey when they get arrested in the end, he was the only one to not take the plea bargain, again out of some misplaced loyalty I guess. 

What I have heard about the film prior to watching it was that it is a great performance from Depp but the film will leave you totally cold. I think it is intentional from their part and from that point of view it is a unique film in the gangster genre. I always had minor gripes with the way Scorsese films like Goodfellas and Casino glamorize the lives of its protagonists to the point of unbelievability. Donnie Brasco, another one which starred Johnny Depp, was also done in a low-key manner as well with a great performance from Al Pacino. The only negative about that film was Depp's very obviously fake mustache. He is an actor who seemed to have gone totally fell out of love with his profession with him choosing to star in shits like Pirates of the Caribbean and too many Tim Burton films after the 90s. So it was very refreshing to see him back in a role that is demanding and it is a great turn from him. At no point does the makers want you to root for his character and they don't try to give any justifying motives for the way he thinks and acts. It is quite a cold psychopathic portrayal. 

The film is most interesting from the perspective of FBI who got into a clusterfuck because of their dealings with Bulger, who saw their alliance as a business opportunity. He expanded his operations by playing FBI and it was a big scandal when Boston Global revealed the information to the public finally. Overall, I felt the film was a great watch with a very strong second half. Some of the scenes in the latter half with Whitey at his psychopathic best are just outstanding. The film flew quite under the radar and received mixed response from the critics. I think they will see it much more favorably in future. Depp really deserved a nomination for his portrayal which was much better than what the trailers would suggest.

PS: The tone of the film is pretty much similar to Mystic River, which was also set in Boston. Latter one is something that I didn't like very much and thinks is very much overrated.

Rating: 4/5