Black Mass review


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Black Mass review
Black Mass (2015)
scott cooper
johnny depp, Joel Edgerton
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The story of notorious gangster Whitey Bulger.

Johnny Depp isn’t wearing a silly hat, praise be!

That’s the biggest news about new movie Black Mass, which is all about South Boston gangster James Whitey Bulger and the nefarious things he got up to. He’s played by Depp in what is easily his most committed performance since he donned the headgear for Captain Jack Sparrow all the way back in 2003.

And he’s doing pretty fine work here, with a mixture of smarm and snarling that gives us a feel for the legend around Bulger, many years after he was toppled from the crown of the FBIs Most Wanted list. There’s a monologue here in particular which I can already see as part of an Oscar nomination reel.

It’s just a shame that everything else about the film is basically forgettable. That starts with workmanlike direction from Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) who doesn’t seem to know what to do when Depp isn’t front and centre.

Then there’s the impressive list of supporting places, who range from being hopelessly miscast – Benedict Cumberbatch, what were you thinking? – to criminally underused – Juno Temple, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard. Even second billed Joel Edgerton barely gets a look in, this is basically the Johnny Depp show.

And that would be less of a problem if there was a little more going on. The set up is all about shady dealings with government sorts and there’s plenty of potential there but otherwise Bulger just wanders around being alternatively jolly and creepy, with bouts of violence just to remind us that he was a bad guy really, despite how everyone loves Depp.

The plot doesn’t have a dramatic peak, fumbling around for more stuff for Depp to do. And that’s entertaining enough, so long as you’re interested in watching him in extremely pale makeup and alarmingly blue eyes snarling things through yellowed teeth. Let’s be honest, he looks almost as silly here as he did in Alice in Wonderland.

While Black Mass might notch up another acting nomination for its lead, there’s nothing much else to see here. Move along.

-Daniel Anderson

6 Stars
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