Black Mass Review

Black Mass

There’s nothing america likes better than a comeback kid.

Just ask Robert Downey Jr, the highest earning actor on the planet for the past few years.

A couple of decades ago, Bobby was involved in a very public battle with his own personal demons; but in a story worthy of its own movie, RDJ broke off his dance with the devil and came out the other side stronger.

But with Downey Jr’s redemption now complete, it’s time for someone else to step up to the plate.

And judging by the buzz surrounding Black Mass, that someone is everyone’s favourite outsider actor from a decade ago, Johnny Depp.

Based on real life Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, Black Mass is the biopic of a ruthless killer turned fbi informant who leads american authorities on a merry run for two decades.

Now I don’t have a problem with gangster shaped entertainment, even though I find most of them to be horribly overrated by the impotent mafia fanboys who worship at their alter.

Then again, The Sopranos is one of the best tv shows I’ve ever seen, and Johnny Depp used to be great, so I had high hopes for Black Mass.

But it’s the hope that kills you. And if that doesn’t, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger will.

The thing about great gangster shows is they provide some fictional escapism from the routine nature of our nine to five lives.

So it doesn’t really matter how violent the action gets, because you know it’s not real.

This isn’t the case with Black Mass where, presumably, every on screen murder was a real life murder off screen.

If that’s not bad enough, Black Mass glorifies this murderer by casting one of the world’s most famous actors to play him; and every other morally reprehensible person from James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s real life is also played by a big name star.

Black Mass

Then there’s the tone of Black Mass, which is probably the most disturbing thing.

Starting out in the seventies, when Bulger had already established himself at the top end of Boston’s criminal underworld, we’re regularly presented with scenes that show Whitey’s supposed humanity, presumably so we’ll care about the guy.

Well, having sympathy for a real life devil who was one of America’s most wanted criminals is thankfully beyond me.

And even if you can get past the moral ambiguity of Johnny Depp playing a real life gangster in such a sympathetic way, Black Mass fails to add up to the sum of its considerable ensemble parts.

It’s more of a vanity project for a fading star, who’s all too consciously trying to reboot his reputation as a serious actor after more than a decade in his self-inflicted disney bankrolled wilderness.

Well, it’s going to take more than some blue contacts and a hairpiece to achieve this.

But the biggest failure for me is Hollywood’s continued pursuit of riches from the life and crimes of career criminals, only matched by the vanity and hypocrisy of the big name actors who are happy to trouser seven figure sums to play them.

Redemption may be a popular cinematic theme, but it’s something that’s beyond most of Hollywood.

Jonathan Campbell

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November 2015
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