Black Mass Blu-ray Review


In this post-Godfather, post-Goodfellas, post-Sopranos age, the gangster genre has arguably been done to death, no pun intended.

Any new film to join the crime canon therefore needs to offer something a little new to stand out from its peers.

Unfortunately, Scott Cooper’s Black Mass does not.

This much-hyped film tells the story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a South Boston crime-lord who was mainly active from the seventies to the mid-nineties, when he went into hiding. In 2011, Bulger was arrested after lasting 16 years at large and enjoying a tenure on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

Bulger will already be familiar to most fans of crime movies, serving as an inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed.

Events revolve primarily around a dubious deal struck between Bulger and the FBI, whereby it is purported that Bulger basically received immunity to run the Winterhill gang in return for information on his Mafia competitors. Rather than viewing it as informing, Bulger is shown to see it merely as a good business arrangement.

Connolly grows close to Bulger and as the bodies pile up, senior heads at the FBI start to probe into the value of this ‘arrangement’.

Rather than focusing solely on Bulger, Cooper’s film verges on ensemble-drama territory, additionally casting its glare over Bulger’s Massachusetts Senate President brother, William (Benedict Cumberbatch) and old family friend and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), as well as several footsoldiers-turned-informants such as Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons).

Kevin Bacon also gets a look-in as Connolly’s boss and there are relatively fleeting appearances from Juno Temple, Corey Stoll and Peter Sarsgaard.

I remember eagerly anticipating this film ever since I saw a preview of the scene where Bulger persuades one of Connolly’s colleagues to tell him the family secret of the marinade he has just prepared. It’s a strong scene, despite Depp’s reminiscence of Joe Pesci’s various mob personae in its tonal shift, but this standard does not follow throughout.


Black Mass trots out most of the usual gangster tropes: period music, sporadic violence, voice-overs, and does so expertly, if not innovatively.

You also get the sense that there is an incredibly high attention to detail being paid to both the locales and the characters. Whilst admirable, this is something that is only likely to be fully appreciated by those with prior knowledge of the true story.

Helmer Cooper has a few critically acclaimed films under his belt, and does a steady job here, with Cumberbatch dependably delivering and the best performance arguably coming from Edgerton as the lawman desperately straddling the moral divide.

But, in contrast to near-universal critical claim, Depp’s performance does not seem to ring true. The intensity and intention are clear, but the make-up serves as distraction rather than enhancement, and Depp’s Hollywood-ness ultimately shines through, giving unmerited sheen to an otherwise reprehensible character.

Black Mass is a pretty robust gangster yarn which hits all the usual notes, but it’s not a game-changer.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

March 2016