Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson Corey Stoll, Rory Cochran, Jesse Plemons and Kevin Bacon
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: November 26th
The term “an actor’s director” gets bandied about a lot, but seriously, actors must love to work with director Scott Cooper. Between the slightly overrated Crazy Heart and the slightly underrated Out of the Furnace, Cooper gifts his actors with big, meaty roles to chew into, and directs in such a solid, unfussy manner so as to not get in their way, or deflect any attention from them whatsoever. The same goes with Black Mass, with a fit-to-burst amount of supporting actors all vying for attention in the wake of Johnny Depp’s overhyped leading role.
The true story of legendary gangster Whitey Bulger is so fantastic and packed full of exciting incidents, it’s difficult to work out quite how Cooper managed to turn in something as unspectacular as this. The movie is solid, yes, but he’s taken a back-seat in much the same way he appears to do for his actors, hoping the story will be strong enough to almost tell itself, but it’s clear that this movie needed more from its director than someone who can put two good actors in a room together and have them talk threateningly to each other over and over and over again.
Depp as Bulger is getting all of the attention, and while we do associate him with being cinema’s go-to preening goofball lately, this isn’t exactly the revelation it’s being made out to be. Slap that bald-cap and those creepy, ice-blue contacts on any actor and they’ll instantly become unnerving, and Deep has been more menacing than this in some of his Tim Burton’s movies, although it may have been overlooked by the crappy film he’d been surrounded by at the time.
Supporting cast wander in and out of the story, but it’s clear that Black Mass is the victim of a ruthless edit. Cooper himself has admitted that the original cut was a full hour longer, and since then we’ve had Sienna Miller’s entire character removed the film, while some of those that remain – Cumberbatch’s aspiring politician, Johnson’s put-upon wife, Bacon’s head of investigations, Cochrane as Depp’s right-hand-man – all feel woefully underwritten despite the unanimously stellar performances presented here, all in order to give more time to Bulger’s rise to power and John Connolly (Edgerton) trying to keep a lid on the monster he’s created.
Edgerton is great as the egotistical, power-hungry FBI agent who tries to use Bulger as an informant while giving him a free-pass for his own illegalities, and towards the second half of the movie, it does genuinely feel like it’s more his movie than Depp’s. Unfortunately, even this is left a little anaemic towards the final act, as it’s never fully explained as to why Connolly keeps the operation going once Bulger starts using it to his own murderous advantage. There is some lip-service paid to the Irish community and Catholic guilt playing into it, but it’s not enough to excuse why Connolly would allow so many lives – including his own – to get ruined in the process.
In the end, it’s clear why Cooper and the cast where so attracted to the project initially, but the end product can’t be what anyone had envisioned. Once again, it’s an actor’s movie held together by a director whose only stamped impression is a pared-down edit and some rushed conclusions. A solid film with some great performances, but nothing more than that.