Thank Zeus, Johnny Depp is back people, back from a Tim Burton pirate acid trip of mediocrity. He returns to gritty gangster movie, BLACK MASS, that looks like he is going to score an Oscar nomination. He lets loose in this one and nearly looks unrecognisable playing one of America’s biggest gangsters in history, James “Whitey” Bulger. Kernel Blake hit this one up and reviews below. BLACK MASS is out today with thanks to Roadshow Films, it is rated MA15+ and runs for 122mins, get into it!


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Johnny Depp has had a bit of a rough trot the last few (ten…) years, going from the unique, respected actor of films such as DONNIE BRASCO and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS to the live action cartoon character that has seen his drunken pirates & whacky, Tim Burton over-paid clowns, turn him into box office poison.

Thankfully, although still under appearance altering makeup, Depp has returned to ‘acting’ with his finest turn in many, many years playing the notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Scott Cooper’s new true story crime drama, BLACK MASS. For those unfamiliar with Bulger and his handiwork, Whitey, after a 10 year stretch in some of the harshest prisons on Earth, (Alcatraz for starters) rose from petty crook in South Boston to criminal kingpin of the Massachusetts capital during the 1970s and 80s, with a little help from a certain US Bureau of Investigation.

BLACK MASS starts with members of Whitey’s crew being interrogated by police, who are looking to dish the dirt on their frankly psychotic boss in order to save their own skins and reduce the time on their sentences. Through these interrogations, we are taken back to South Boston, or Southie, in the early 70s where Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang run the streets in their own territory, with the Italian mob taking care of the North side of the city.


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Bulger and his gang are men about town, known by all and feared by many, but also doing their bit for the community, like taking care of their old school teacher and looking out for their extended Irish families throughout the town. Returning to his old neighbourhood is new FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a childhood friend of Bulger and his now senator brother Billy (Benedict Cucumbercabbagepatch). Looking up to Whitey from a young age, Connolly sees an opportunity to make his mark in his career, pitching a crazy idea to his superiors that will help him take down the Italian mafia that has plagued his beloved city for too long.

The crazy idea? Enlisting the criminal basket case, that is Whitey Bulger, as an informant to get the inside word of the criminal underground, to get close to the mob and take them down. In turn for his service, Connolly proposes to protect Bulger and his gang from any meddling from the Feds. Bulger, who thinks being a rat is the lowest of the low, instead takes up the offer on the proviso that he won’t be an informant, but that the collaboration with the FBI is a business opportunity, explaining to his hesitant gang that with the mafia out of the way and the Feds having their back, the Winter Hill Gang can take Boston for themselves.

As Connolly’s star begins to rise in the Bureau with his squad taking down the mafia thanks to Bulger’s help, Whitey and his gang begin their rise up from petty crooks to full blown gangsters, often brutally stamping their authority on their new turf, all with the blessing of the FBI. Murder, racketeering, extortion, everything is fair game and Bulger’s notoriety and bank balance grow faster as he looks to expand his reign as criminal kingpin.


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Blinded by his childhood adoration for Bulger, Connolly doesn’t see the writing on the wall for him, enjoying the lavish lifestyle afforded to him by Whitey even when questions are raised by his superior officers, his partner in the Bureau and his wife, who can’t believe her moral, upstanding husband is being swept up in the extravagant lifestyle that Bulger now leads.

When a new business venture for Bulger goes awry during an expansion into the lucrative Jai Alai circuit in Miami (google it, it’s an insane sport), the net begins to close on not only Bulger but Connolly as well, who continually defends his criminal idol against his better judgement. Although based primarily on the true events of Bulger’s rise to infamy, BLACK MASS leans more towards telling the story from Connolly’s perspective, which works out great leaving Depp to play the slithery, intimidating Bulger from the background.

The film is a dark, tense look at life in the South of Boston which has seen its fair share of films set in the locale, such as THE DEAPRTED and THE TOWN. Makes you wonder how the hell anyone survives with the amount of gangland warfare that this place seems to have endured for nigh on 40 years…

The performances from the excellent cast are superb, with Depp bringing genuine menace and brutality to his role which is also nuanced with his softer side of being a doting father to a young son and looking after his elderly mother. Edgerton is a real stand out, full of bravado and righteousness to begin with before slipping into denial and continued adoration of his childhood idol/psychotic as an ambitious hustler that thinks he can talk his way out of anything, which ultimately is his undoing.


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Cumberbatch is solid in a supporting role as a powerful senator, although it would’ve been good to see more of an interaction between him and his criminal brother. Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Julianne Nicholson, as Connolly’s suffering wife, are also incredibly solid in smaller roles. A special mention must go to the always excellent Peter Sarsgaard as a coked up hitman, whose hurt feelings of missing out on a hit begin the net tightening around Bulger and his crew. Plus all the actors do a pretty decent Boston accent, not too many ‘paaahk ya caaah’ style over the top accents are heard, thankfully.

This is a true return to form for Depp, after coasting through his career for nearly a decade, it’s great to see an actor with his talent delivering such a great performance again, but it is Edgerton who really excels here and will take him from merely respected character actor to genuine star. Directed by Scott Cooper, who also made CRAZY HEART and OUT OF THE FURNACE, and shot in such a way by Masanobu Takayanagi, as to make Southie a claustrophobic, dire place to live, BLACK MASS is a dark crime drama that tells the story ‘the greatest scandal in FBI history’ and it is one that I can’t recommend enough.


4 Pops



Kernel Blake is a part-time beard bandit, philanthropist, industrialist….bicyclist…photographer, world traveller, movie lover, a man of few words who enjoys the finer things in life, like reciting Snake Plissken quotes. And when all that fails, heads out to a racetrack to do skids. Can be found twatting @bcurrall80 and hipstergramming @bcurrall80


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