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Black Mass: I watched Johnny Depp's latest so you wouldn't have to

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 24 September 2015, 22:59 IST

This morning, I did something I have never done before - I logged on to IMDB.com to rate a movie. Yeah, I know that probably doesn't seem like much of a first, but trust me, it is. See, I have watched great movies and posted about them on social media. I have watched terrible movies and posted about them on social media. But I haven't watched a movie that left me feeling so cheated that I woke up with a burning sense of vengeance, and exacted said vengeance in the only way immediately possible - through IMDB.

I was even willing to make an ID on IMDB just for the privilege, something I'm ordinarily loath (and too lazy) to do. What was the movie? Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp.

Even after I'd given it the one-star rating it deserved, my thirst for justice was still not quenched. Which is why we find ourselves here. Before I begin to grind the proverbial axe, let me give you the basic gist of the film. It's the story of Jimmy 'Whitey' Bulger, a small-time gangster from Boston who rose to be a veritable crime lord with help from the FBI in the 1970s.

Johnny Depp plays Bulger, Benedict Cumberbatch plays the role of Bulger's brother - who's a senator - and Joel Edgerton (most notable for being overshadowed by Tom Hardy in Warrior) plays Depp's FBI agent friend.

Before you write the thoughts that follow as those of someone who doesn't 'get' gangster flicks, check yourself. I absolutely love a good gangster flick - from The Usual Suspects to Goodfellas to Snatch and Gangs of New York to The Departed and even Boondock Saints - I've lapped them all up with glee.

Let the axe-grinding begin

To start with, I'd only agreed to see the movie on the whim of a lady friend of mine. It was sold to me as a gangster flick starring Johnny Depp and everyone's favourite British actor Cumberbatch.

That premise alone was a fallacy - Cumberbatch is in the movie the way real fruits are in Fanta. He stars for a grand total of about seven minutes. His role as Depp's brother mostly consists of small talk in an accent that makes little sense given his character. Still, wasting Cumberbatch's ample talents aside, the movie fails on a number of levels, which I found surprising because it seems to have received quite a few positive reviews.

The giveaway should have been the director - Scott Cooper. Cooper's previous claims to directorial acclaim are the movies Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace. In both, he manages to waste the talents of prodigious actors (Russel Crowe and Christian Bale respectively) and produce average-at-best but largely forgettable movies.

The first thing that struck me about Black Mass was the style of narration. The movie is told through the done-to-death retrospective narrative style. But unlike other movies that use it to interestingly segue between scenes or hide/reveal twists in the plot, Black Mass uses it in the flattest way possible. Short, flat sentences and dull expressions in an interrogation room tell you pretty much exactly what you're going to see for the next eight-nine minutes. The formula repeats endlessly - and when I say endlessly I mean endlessly, because the movie's run time is just over two hours!

The snail-paced plot development doesn't help. It's like every episode of season two of True Detective, except that True Detective still managed some sense of mystery. There is no sense of 'where will this go next' in Black Mass, just predictable inevitability.

Black mass? More like Black farce

The performances are nothing to write home about. Johnny Depp plays Johnny Depp from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, minus any sense of likeability. His character's random acts of violence also seemed forced - desperate attempts to liven up an otherwise turgid film. In one scene where he wears a leather jacket and shoots a man with a shotgun, he comes across less like a gangster and more like the Terminator's grandfather.

The only other character that's developed even a little over the two-hour run is Edgerton's FBI agent. But a thoroughly dislikeable character is made even worse through Edgerton's unconvincing delivery. His should ideally have been the most interesting character in the movie - straddling the worlds of both crime and justice - but he just comes across as a dull and unintelligent.

Cumberbatch wasn't the only big name roped in and then wasted; Peter Saarsgard, Kevin Bacon and Rory Cochrane are all wasted in bit-part roles. There's also an assortment of actors who've played bit-part roles in successful franchises - you have Corey Stoll from House of Cards, David Harbour from The Newsroom and Dakota Johnson from Melanie Griffith's womb. All wasted.

The only positive to really take away from the movie is that it's based on a true story, so you're slightly more informed than you were at the start of the movie. That being said, two of the more violent gangsters from the movie are now back on the streets. If I was the director, I'd watch my back.

This piece was meant to be cathartic, but at the end of it I've realised that I've not only wasted two hours watching the movie, but a further two hours telling you how terrible it is. Let my suffering not be in vain. Spare yourselves the drudgery that is Black Mass.

First published: 24 September 2015, 22:59 IST
 
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