REVIEW – BLACK MASS – Is Johnny Depp’s return to form as James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Scott Cooper’s Boston set gangster pic, actually true?
There is no doubt that Johnny Depp is beginning to tire of visiting children’s hospitals dressed as Jack Sparrow. Maybe he’s also fed up of having to sit in Tim Burton’s make up chair for seven hours every day to recreate some fantastical personage that ends up always looking like Johnny Depp with tons of make up. He might even have started watching his own movies, something he denied doing and then made Dark Shadows to show the reason why.
However, Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” is not quite the masterpiece, to be ranked with the best of Martin Scorsese, that it obviously sets out to be. The fact that the nearest Scorsese film it resembles is the messy minor work The Departed – also set in Boston, also featuring a corrupt law enforcement officer – is perhaps a warning sign. And yet The Departed was a noisily entertaining lump of grunge with a wonderfully over the top Jack Nicholson performance, full of grand Guignol verve. Black Mass is altogether more respectable. It’s a polished piece of film that tastefully harks back to the seventies. It’s layered narrative feels like an after thought and its script has a tendency to lead the audience by the nostrils, but it isn’t dull. It’s good TV. Not great TV. Good TV.
James Whitey Bulger (Depp) is a small time hood, being squeezed by the Italian mafia but when John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) comes back to South Boston after landing a job in the FBI he brokers a deal whereby in return for the Italians, the FBI will turn a blind eye to, if not facilitate Bulger’s rise in the crime world. Bulger himself is a weird Vampiric creature who is closer to the Madhatter than he is to Donnie Brasco. This is a huge problem with the film. You don’t see a character. You see contact lenses and a weird swimming cap bald piece. Just once I’d love Johnny Depp to be in a film in which he wasn’t review as ‘unrecognizable’. He is given lots of great scenes – the family recipe one feels like an instant classic – but this is also the problem: lots of great scenes does not a story, nor a character make. And many of the scenes appear to be at the service of Depp, showing how threatening etc he is. But it is a one note performance. A scene with his wife (Dakota Johnson) is so underwritten on her part that it feels like the two of them have never met let alone had a child together. Edgerton actually has the more interesting role and he pulls it off, amazingly, while still looking like Joel Edgerton!