Black Mass

    More stories from Brett Starkopf


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    Johnny Depp as Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger.

    It’s been hard to watch Johnny Depp since 2003 without seeing Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp’s portrayal of “Whitey” Bulger just might bring him back from Davy Jones’ Locker. However, strong acting by the lead and the rest of the cast isn’t enough to save the movie from sloppy-at-times storing telling.


    Based off of Dick Lehr and Gerrard O’Neill’s book with the same name, “Black Mass” focuses on the actions of Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster during the 1970s told through flashbacks by various confidants and members of the Winter Hill Gang. Bulger is contacted by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a FBI agent who grew up on the streets of South Boston with Whitey and his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Massachusetts state senator. Connolly enlists Bulger’s help as an assistant — not an informant because he isn’t a “rat” — to take down the Italian mafia. With the FBI looking away from Bulger, he sees an opportunity to expand his organized crime empire.


    Scott Cooper’s third directed feature (“Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace”) is well acted but a bland at times. The dynamic between the Bulger’s and Connolly is almost too good to be true it should be a sort of cliché and since this movie is based off of actual events, it should have been the focal point of the movie. But it wasn’t. The relationships between the three men aren’t explored anymore than the brief synopsis stated above.
    Much to creative writing instructor’s chagrin, the story is mostly telling and not enough showing. Instead, the focal point is more on the costuming and Bulger’s dead tooth and his receding hairline. We are introduced to each member of the gang through testimonies. The testimonies are used for voice-over narration for the story, sometimes to a fault, merely summarizing the events on the screen. Black Mass relies heavily on violence and using profanity as a crutch.


    But, Depp’s South-Boston accent and convincing crazy saves this movie. Also driven by the supporting cast, led by Edgerton and Cumberbatch, Black Mass features stellar performances by Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane and Peter Sarsgaard, who shows the deconstruction of a man’s psyche in a limited about of screen time.


    Black Mass is a solid attempt at revitalizing the gangster movie and Depp’s portrayal of Bulger is more haunting than most monsters. However, the movie is constantly building up to a grand climax but doesn’t quite reach its peak.