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“Black Mass” Reviewed



Johnny Depp, with enough bad makeup to sink Courtney Love, stars as the psychopathic Southie James “Whitey” Bulger who ran  Boston’s the Winter Hill Gang, after forming an “Unholy Alliance” (hence the movie title) with the FBI, via childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, when the FBI woke up to the the fact he was taking them for a ride and shut him down.

On the outskirts of this are wives (Dakota Johnson plays Whitey’s), brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch, as Whitey’s brother the Senator) and assorted “B+” actors like Kevin Bacon as John Connolly’s boss with a bad hair dye.

It has some exciting moments, and while it doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of extreme violence, it has its moments of kinetic threat as Whitey rises and rises. But anybody who saw Jack Nicholson play a fictional Whitey  in “The Departed” may sure find themselves disappointed in Depp’s restrained malevolence.

Everything here is missing a part. We never see Whitey the street hoodlum so we never see what changes in him as he grows more powerful, he never leaves his Southie roots and so we never see him evolve, no one kisses his ring, he dresses the same, acts the same: he doesn’t change. Bolger is all coiled danger from beginning to end, the few scenes that humanize him, playing cards with his Mum or giving his son a life lesson, it is aberrant: not his true nature.

What you need in crime operas is the rise and fall, it is the evolution of evil, but Bolger is the blandest of villains: there is so little joy, you wonder why he bothers. The movie isn’t bad, it tells its story simply enough, despite voiceovers from his accomplices, and it hits it marks, especially when Bolger is at his most intimidating with Connolly’s wife. But in the end the movie lacks any lyricism or joyfulness, the way a Scorsese would have provided. Directed by Scott Cooper, there is so little joy of avarice, of violence, of all the good stuff in villainy, you wonder why anybody is bothering.

Grade: B-

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