Review: Black Mass
Out of his Depp-th?There’s a large shadow looming over every scene of director Scott (‘Out of the Furnace’) Cooper’s ‘Black Mass’, and it belongs to Martin Scorsese. As a gangster movie, it struggles to escape the weight of Scorsese’s classic crime thriller, ‘Goodfellas’, whilst in its lead it never evades the memory of Jack Nicholson in Scorseses’s ‘The Departed’. Nicholson’s character, Frank Costello, was based on real-life Boston gangster, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, and it’s a memory so vivid, of a performance so grandiose, that Depp’s performance never escapes mimicry.
Depp’s not aided by make-up so distracting that it never allows you to forget that this is a Hollywood hunk buried beneath layers of silicone, paint and prosthetics. If you disagree with me about Depp’s performance then I urge you to check out Theron in ‘Monster’ by way of comparison, or Nicholson’s over-the-top pantomiming in ‘The Departed.’ Picture an actor of Michael Keaton’s scene-chewing stature in place of Depp, or the likes of a Pacino in ‘Scarface’, to imagine the unpredictable fear and sudden rage that should be lurking deep within Whitey’s dead eyes. Whereas Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’ was truly transformed, nailing her monstrous character both from without and within, Depp’s caked face seems at odds with his lean, fit frame. It is (for me at least) a display of surface over substance, make-up over method.
The script suffers from the same issues of surface over substance. Lots of cool supporting cast (including Bendybum Cucumbersnatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson), but all with precious little to do, aside from play second fiddle to Depp’s grandstanding. Only Sarsgaard stands out and truly shines amongst the host of underwritten roles, in which the female characters feel like nothing more than cursory afterthoughts.
As a by the numbers, sub-Scorsese gangster flick it’s okay – but no great shakes. It underwhelms, underperforms and overpromises. It’s not all Depp’s fault. The so-amazing-it-could-only-be-true story of Bulger’s Boston mob and his unholy deal with the FBI could have been a truly stunning movie, but the script manages to miss the mark by a country mile. Still, those seeking a good (not great) gangster flick will not be disappointed, as will those seeking a return to some form of acting (rather than Pirate dress-up) by Depp. Although, like his previous gangster turns in ‘Blow’ and ‘Public Enemies’, the end result is a damp, sub-Scorsese, squib.