Black Mass (2015)

(Video on Demand, February 2016) The problem in trying to like Black Mass is that it’s based on source material (the life of Boston crime lord Whitley Bulger) that has already inspired the best version of itself in The Departed. Going back to present Bulger’s real story invariably leads to comparisons that aren’t at Black Mass‘s benefit. For a story with a quasi-unbelievable accumulation of crooked cops, tainted politicians and a bigger-than-life sadistic criminal, this fictionalized biography seems tame and conventional. Johnny Depp does turn in a very good performance as Bulger—for the first time in a long time, he disappears in a new character bereft of his usual tics. There are plenty of other good actors in smaller roles, but they don’t make as big an impression. This is Bulger’s biography, obviously, but the film doesn’t have as much grace and flow as we’d expect. Scenes seem to come out of nowhere, with Bulger’s moral devolution being explained as much as it’s shown. The Boston setting isn’t particularly gripping and the film’s cinematography seems pedestrian at times. The longer it goes on, the more Black Mass seems like methadone compared to the giddy rush of The Departed, and while that’s not exactly a fair comparison, it remains not to the film’s advantage.

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