Review: Black Mass

Given the title of the film and tone of the trailer, I was expecting something a bit more sinister from Black Mass, the story of Irish-American mobster Whitey Bulger’s “unholy alliance” with the FBI during the 1970s. Instead, the film ends up feeling like a cover version of previous crime dramas, with only a few moments that truly unsettle.

Johnny Depp’s turn as Bulger has been hyped as his return to playing complex adult roles. It’s undoubtedly a fierce performance, but sees Depp continuing his predilection for acting while submerged in prosthetics, including a fake nose, tooth, eyebrows, contact lenses, hairline, and so on. Trying to figure out where his real face begins and the makeup ends can be slightly distracting.

Black Mass seems conflicted at times about what story it’s trying to tell. The strongest hook is Bulger’s partnership with the FBI and, if more focus was put on Joel Edgerton’s compromised agent John Connolly, it might have resulted in a deeper, richer tale. But the film is happy to coast along on moments that will be familiar to most viewers: a Goodfellas-style montage here, a Sopranos-style whacking there, and it all ends up feeling slightly redundant.

The supporting cast is stuffed with wonderful character actors, but it’s Rory Cochrane as a member of Bulger’s gang who leaves the biggest impression, his increasingly droopy face showing the damage all that crime can do to someone’s soul. 

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