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Black Mass - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Black Mass
Directing: B
Acting: B-
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Johnny Depp is now 52 years old and long established as a true acting talent, someone who can disappear into roles both fanciful and straightforward. Few of his roles have involved a physical transformation as dramatic as that of James "Whitey" Bulger in Black Mass, a true story about a Boston crime boss cram packed with star power and distracting Boston accents.

If you know anything about Black Mass, you know that in spite of the many other big-name actors in it, it's very much Johnny Depp's movie. This turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. Depp's performance itself is exemplary, really the only standout performance in the film. The makeup and prosthetics, however, turn him into something unsettling and odd: a nearly complete transformation, except one in which you can still see Depp's face. This is the problem when a part like this is cast with someone ridiculously famous -- no matter how much effort goes into it, you can't un-see the actor. Not even with contact lenses that give him piercing blue eyes. Between the makeup and his demeanor, he almost seems like the aging love child of Johnny Depp and Ray Liotta.

But, Goodfellas this is not. You leave Black Mass almost thinking, Well, that's too bad. The characters are less interesting than noticing the actors who play them: a Boston-accented Benedict Cumberbatch (which feels weird) as Billy Bulger, Whitey's powerful state politician brother. A Boston-accented Kevin Bacon (which feels weird) as FBI agent Charles McGuire, boss to Boston-accented Joel Edgerton (which feels fine; he's not famous enough for it to be weird) as FBI agent John Connolly, who gets deep into a relationship with Whitey as an informant. A Boston-accented Dakota Johnson as Whitey's young baby mama; a boston-accented Peter Sarsgaard as a volatile gangster in Whitey's sights; Friday Night Lights's Jesse Plemons in a dark curly wig, several extra pounds -- and a Boston accent.

The list goes on. This movie would work a lot better without it being a constant parade of "Oh, I know that guy!" There's some odd editing with Adam Scott, who has a supporting part in the FBI office. He's prominently featured in several scenes without any dialogue before we actually hear him say anything. For a while I was thinking, Why do we keep getting close-ups of this guy? It was never clear who he was or what made him important.

Clearly Whitey Bulger's story is an interesting one, but director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) doesn't seem all that invested in proving it. Reportedly there was a cut of this film that was roughly three hours long, and it was cut down to just over two hours "for pacing reasons." Maybe they didn't cut enough. The pacing still plods.

This is a clear maniac the story is about, so it's almost impressive they managed to make a movie so forgettable. A lot of clear talent went into it, and Whitey Bulger does plenty of manipulating, plenty of murdering, plenty of terrorizing (one scene between him and John Connolly's wife is fairly harrowing), and more than his fair share of murdering. Whitey Bulger is a compelling character, but nothing about this movie makes you care very much.

That's not to say Black Mass is boring. I never checked the clock. But I would if I had to watch this movie again. Depp's performance is of the sort where an Oscar nomination might make sense, but a win would not. You could apply that line of thinking to the film on the whole. It comes together, but not to the point of exceptionalism. You leave this movie relatively satisfied but ready to move on to something else.

Johnny Depp is unsettlingly odd in BLACK MASS.

Overall: B-
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