These days being a famous film star is no guarantee that an audience will automatically turn up in their droves to see your latest flick. Forbes recently published a list of the biggest flops of the year, which included films starring Johnny Depp (Mortdecai), Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah), Sean Penn (The Gunman) and Bradley Cooper (Aloha) in its top ten.
Depp is no stranger to making stinkers, but at least he strives to choose interesting projects and characters, even if they don't always pay off. As far as Mortdecai is concerned, it was doomed from just its title alone; no one is going to go see a film they can barely pronounce, which is a shame, as the film itself was quietly entertaining, whilst Depp's performance was engaging, curious and fun.
Black Mass yet again sees this diverse actor stretch his formidable acting muscles further along the character spectrum, playing real life gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger.
In the mid seventies Whitey Bulger (Depp), leader of the Irish American Winter Hill gang, began to see his turf in South Boston threatened by the Angiulo Brothers. Over the next few years, the Italian mob make a bigger impact, with Bulger struggling to contain them.
Bulger is then approached by an FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton); normally Bulger would despise anyone connected with the Bureau, but Connolly not only grew up in the neighbourhood, he's also a childhood friend of both Bulger and his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), who curiously happens to be the president of the Massachusetts Senate.
Although initially disgusted with the idea of working with Connolly - after all, no-one likes a rat - Bulger, soon comes around to the idea that this union could be beneficial to both sides; as Connolly sells it, they really just want to bring the Angiulo's down, which would be a win win for both of them.
And at first it does appear that both men get what they want, but with the FBI being more than just one man, this unusual arrangement and relationship soon comes under Bureau scrutiny, when the line between what's lawful and what's not, becomes worryingly blurred.
This is a film about turf and crossing a line. And in a way, life imitates art as far as director Scott Cooper is concerned. The content of this film is clear Scorsese territory; it has its roots in family, honour amongst thieves, as well as a retro look at a part of a city under mob rule.
Cooper however, is no Scorsese. He is a director of little experience (having directed only two other films previous to this one, Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace) and sadly it shows. its main problem is that it feels like a made-for-TV film, and not a cool one by the likes of HBO, more like some kind of inferior Crime channel would cobble together.
Cooper focuses on character over plot, which is great if you're Depp as it allows him to shine yet again. What the film severely lacks is impact; Bulger was a violent man, indicted as he was for 19 murders, and that's not to say there weren't more. Although Depp portrays him as suitably edgy, there's no real tangible sense of how violent he can get. Scorsese of course, would have stopped at nothing in informing his audience of the level of evil Bulger stooped to. Cooper offers what must be considered a watered down version of the true dark essence of the man. Which is brutally disappointing as the story is a fascinating one.
Yes Cooper has a strong cast (although having Depp and Cumberbatch as brothers may be stretching the realms of believability just a tad), with Depp and Edgerton both ably supported by the likes of Kevin Bacon and Peter Sarsgaard, the tepid way in which the story is told means their efforts don't really add up to much.
There's no telling how this film would have ended up if it had been helmed by Scorsese, although it's safe to say that it would have been far superior to this one.
If you're brazen enough to go head-to-toe with the likes of Scorsese, make sure you've got the goods, otherwise you just end up looking a mook.