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Black Mass

Directed by Scott Cooper

USA, 2015

HOME, 28 November 2015

Black Mass

Bonds formed in childhood are strong as high tensile steel; they hold firm forever.

The film tells the story of James Bulger (Johnny Depp), an Irish American gangster who operated on Boston’s south side (‘Southie’). It is the story of John Connolly too (Joel Edgerton), an FBI agent who grew up on the same streets, and of James’s younger brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), a United States senator.

Bulger and Connolly form an alliance of a kind: James is Connolly’s informant, John is Bulger’s inside man. Together they take down an Italian outfit, meaning that Connolly meets a key target and Bulger gets rid of a dangerous competitor. Their interests coincide momentarily, yet ultimately it is an unequal alliance. Bulger gradually gets the upper hand.

There are two main reasons to see the film: Johnny Depp and the world that the film portrays. When Depp is as good as this, you feel he’s the best actor in the world. As Bulger he is deathly sinister, black as hell, genuinely unsettling. Something about the eyes, the walk, not an absence of feeling so much as a willed withholding of empathy, which could occur at any time. This guy could smile at you one minute, kill you the next and sleep well at night. You fear him.

I’ve not read Dick Lehr’s book, the source of the film, but I’m inclined to seek it out if only because this film is like an adaptation of an early, unknown George V. Higgins novel. It shows us the same world as The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Cogan’s Trade (filmed a few years back with Brad Pitt) – if you like those films, you’ll like this. After watching Black Mass, I have an appetite to see a film of The Digger’s Game, now who is going to make it?