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TIFF Report: Black Mass

black mass

Who’s in it: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson

Who’s behind it: Directed by Scott Cooper, Written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

Who’ll love it: Johnny Depp fans hungry for a rare taste of realism from the actor. Gangster movie aficionados seeking craftsmanship, period detail, and a stellar cast.

What it’s about: A notorious staple of the South Boston underworld, Irish-American gangster James “Whitey” Bulger is able to thrive for three decades, in spite of a well-known reputation for criminality, and countless acts of overt violence. The secret of this apparent immunity is simple: he secretly acts as an FBI informant, collaborating with John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a childhood friend who also happens to be an FBI agent. When Connolly’s fellow agents finally realize that Bulger’s information isn’t especially helpful, this troubled dynamic gets far more complicated.

Why you should see it: Featuring one of Johnny Depp’s strongest performances, Black Mass is the most engrossing Hollywood crime dramas in recent memory. A significant step forward for director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), this is a more faithful take on the true story that provided partial inspiration for The Departed. Even more confident and assured than that Best Picture winner in many ways, Black Mass puts more emphasis on polish than vitality. (Nearly every scene is driven by dialogue, and the rare moments of action are light on uncertainty or suspense.) In addition, it’s not always clear why we should care about these familiar acts of corruption—these characters don’t do anything to earn our fascination—and the film fails to find the grand themes that propelled classics like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Godfather movies. Of course, that’s setting the bar impossibly high. On its own terms, Black Mass is an extremely involving gangster saga that should earn serious consideration come awards season.

When you can see it: Monday, September 14 at 9pm (Elgin/Winter Garden Theatres Visa Screening Room); Tuesday, September 15 at 2:45pm (Princess of Wales); Friday, September 18 at 10pm (Princess of Wales). Tickets available here. Opens wide September 18.

Watch the trailer here, and check out the poster below:

black mass poster

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