72nd Venice International Film Festival: BLACK MASS



Drop shades, icy eyes and a heart of stone. He is the Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger; one of the ten FBI most wanted felons. Turned in to a beast by a family tragedy, Bulger becomes an unofficial FBI nark for his friendship with the young agent John Connolly.

Born in the pages of Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s book Black Mass, on the screen Bulger has the features of Johnny Depp who, fortunately, under the Academy beloved heavy makeup, doesn’t forget his great actor skills especially during the dinner scene when he discusses a simply steak recipe with eyes so cruel to be perfect for a horror movie.

Scott Cooper’s direction is based on the classic gangster rules. Despite too many details in the book and the great myth created around Bulger, Cooper manages to keep the audience’s attention with a splendid job of brevity, avoiding useless digressions. Great skill in the reconstruction of the South Boston atmosphere in the late ‘70s with all its conservatism, its distrust and his loyalty to the old friends. But not only this. The directing style, sober and almost invisible, manages to portray the character without hurting the victims’ families. In telling this slice of American history, Cooper uses an increasingly rare intellectual honesty.

Small cracks: Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t excel as we are used to (or perhaps after The Imitation Game and his great performance on stage as Hamlet we have become too spoiled?); the narrator who we expect to be a major character disappears after about ten minutes…so as Dakota Johnson‘s character who leaves the scene suddenly in no time.

“You were just saying? ‘Just saying’ gets people sent away. ‘Just saying’ got me a nine-year stretch in Alcatraz, you understand? So, ‘just saying’ can get you buried real quick” (Whitey Bulger)

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