Review: “Black Mass”

Can an amazing Johnny Depp save a mediocre crime drama?


Logan Peterson

The mafia drama has for years been a staple of experimentation for many filmmakers, and director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) gives it a go with the true crime film, “Black Mass.”

The film tells the story of notorious Boston crime lord, James “Whitey” Bulger, and his unforeseen alliance with the FBI. The most important, and quite possibly the only redeeming quality of “Black Mass” is the transformative performance of Johnny Depp as Bulger. For the first time in years, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching Johnny Depp play dress-up to a Tim Burton gag.

Depp not only embodies the physical likeness of the mobster, but he embodies his malice and for a two-hour period, there is no Johnny Depp. There is only the presence of an unscrupulous being, who has been shaped by power, and by the tragedy in his life. Unfortunately, these tragedies, which include the deaths of beloved family members, are hardly touched on. This is the first step of what is a shallow, boring, and forgettable crime drama.

From the very start of the film, the direction of the film seems aimless, as we get several different points of view other than Bulger. Specifically, FBI Agent John Connolly (played by an underwhelming Joel Edgerton), and his quest to bring down the Italian mob by aligning with Bulger. Or, maybe he just wants to make money off of Bulger’s drug trafficking. That’s the thing: the motives of many of the characters are muddled by the uneven script and uninspired direction.

The script combines many of the same formulaic ways of past crime dramas and the formulaic ways of films set in an almost dystopian South Boston. Every single character has a thick Boston accent used to mask the stench of terrible dialogue.

Most of the performances come from the likes of A-list actors with good track records, but everyone from Edgerton, to Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s brother Bill are surprisingly stiff and lifeless. Not even their immense talent can provide help for the god awful script.

“Black Mass” features a Johnny Depp performance that can be considered his return to greatness, but not much else. Every moment that he’s not on screen is tedious and lacks the character development and substance needed to craft a memorable crime drama.

Grade: C+