Black Mass Review: A Great Gangster in an Okay Gangster Movie

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There’s something unnatural about Johnny Depp’s crystal blue eyes as Whitey Bulger. They’re simultaneously piercing, inviting, and cold. If the eyes are truly the window into the soul, Bulger’s is a complex yarn of a created yet evolutionary evil.

In Black Mass, the ruthless gangster’s crimes are a dangerous blanket he covers himself with to distract himself from his difficult past. The first and stronger half of the film takes its time showing you the good and the bad aspects of Bulger’s luring personality. Depp rightfully plays him as a monster, but the sort of fun monster you root for like Robert de Niro in Goodfellas or even Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. As an informant to the FBI through Joel Edgarton’s John Connolly, it doesn’t feel like he’s doing all that much harm.

The second half is when the film stops playing around and shows how expansive and kingly Bulger’s criminal empire became. The light disappears in Depp’s eyes and he becomes scarier than ever. But the more frightening he becomes, the more the film feels like it’s spinning its wheels telling the story it has to tell instead of the one it wants to. It’s vast supporting cast of talented players are wasted even as they get more screentime. House of Cards‘ Corey Stoll has a few last minute scenes that don’t give the talented actor any time to breathe.

Still, Depp never falters, and that’s what this film is best for. Black Mass stands relatively well on its own, but it would be nothing without this veteran actor returning from the doldrums of Tim Burton’s later, disappointing work. Perhaps the best case scenario here is for Scorsese to take note. Now that would be a director-actor pairing not to miss. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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