Jez Butterworth

Black Mass



Time was, when Johnny Depp’s name attached to a movie could be interpreted as a guarantee of quality, but to be fair, it’s been a while since that maxim held true. A once keen ability to pick the right project has lately foundered amidst a welter of vanity puff-pieces. So it’s heartening to report that Black Mass is a major step in the right direction, with Depp submitting his best performance in a very long time.

Here, he’s depicting real life  villain James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a career criminal who operated successfully around his home town of Boston over a period of thirty years, largely because his brother, Bobby, was a senator and his best friend, John Connolly,  an FBI agent. Bulger cannily formed an ‘alliance’ with Connolly, trading inside information on his rivals to ensure that he could operate his web of vice and murder with complete impunity.

Depp has worked hard to make himself look unattractive – complete with thinning hair, bad teeth and pale blue eyes, he’s hardly recognisable as his former self. Initial fears that this is simply going to be a ‘makeup led’ performance are soon quashed, as he submits a convincing turn as a repellent psychopath, a man who can skip from helping an old lady with her shopping, to shooting a man point blank in the face, without raising so much as an eyebrow.

There’s a lot of unflinching violence on show here, but its matched by a sharp script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth and there’s the added bonus of a supporting cast to die for – Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sargaard… Seriously, there’s enough talent on show here to fill several movies; but there’s no denying that this is Depp’s film and he has a field day with it.

Like many real life stories, if presented as a piece of fiction, this would seem unlikely. Stay in your seat for the closing credits which offer glimpses of the real protagonists and we’re finally able to fully appreciate the lengths to which director Scott Cooper has gone to ensure that his actors resemble the major players.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney








C Venue 34, Edinburgh

Set in 1950’s London, Mojo is Jez Butterworth’s Olivier Award winning play located in The Atlantic Club,  where pop singer Silver Johnny appears to be on the verge of the big time and the club’s various workers wheel and deal with each other, hoping for a slice of the action. But when the club’s owner, Ezra turns up dead in two separate dustbins, paranoia descends…

It’s a brilliant play – swaggering, macho, loaded with canny period detail and a homoerotic subtext – you have to remember that in the 1950’s, homosexuality was something that had to be kept clandestine. Mojo inhabits the kind of territory that Harold Pinter made his own back in the day and Butterworth excels at finding the dark humour in a brutal and unforgiving world. This is an amateur production, by the oddly named company My Son Tristan, but the actors rise to the challenge and submit excellent performances.

It’s hard to single out one player in particular, but Cody Maltby as the pill-popping Sweets, gets most of the funny lines and has a field day with them. The real tragedy is that on the night we visited, the production had attracted a crowd of just sixteen people and with hindsight, a more intimate venue would have been more appropriate. But we’ve seen packed venues presenting less assured performances and poorer material than is on offer here, so catch this before it’s gone. There’s plenty to admire.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney