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Black Mass


Stars: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, Juno Temple, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Adam Scott

Director: Scott Cooper

You can't take your eyes off Depp as true-life Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, but the film itself isn't a patch on such classics of the genre as The Godfather, GoodFellas or The Untouchables.

Unfolding in staccato fashion, the story begins in 1975, when Whitey, whose brother (Cumberbatch) has improbably become a state senator, is a thoroughly nasty but relatively small-time hood in Southie (South Boston), where the brothers grew up.

Also from the 'hood is FBI agent John Connolly (Edgerton) who, desperate to put an end to Mafia influence in North Boston, enters into an unholy alliance with childhood pal Whitey, whereby the latter is free to pursue his criminal activities while informing on anything he can gather about the other gangs.

Whitey uses the situation to his own advantage, ruthlessly eliminating squealers and anyone who crosses him, on the way to building an empire of crime, with Connolly becoming in effect a silent partner to Whitey's lethal ways.

Full of short-fused guys on both sides of the law, the film also has a good performance from Cochrane, once of CSI Miami, as Whitey's lieutenant, making the man more than a faceless gangster. Director Cooper, however, never really establishes a narrative flow that would give the sense of an evil empire rising and falling, his film remaining a series of incidents rather than an organic whole.

Depp's performance, though, his hair drawn right back and his features reshaped, is perhaps the best of his career, and one that carries real chilling menace.

David Quinlan

USA 2015. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour by deluxe.
123 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 3.

Review date: 24 Nov 2015