Black Mass tells the true story of notorious south Boston gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) who teams up with the FBI in order to defeat a mafia family invading his turf. The film follows his rise and fall through his relationship with John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), his childhood friend who would become his FBI contact.
Black Mass has been advertised largely on its promise of reviving Johnny Depp’s acting career. And that is definitely a good reason to go and see this, if it were true. However poor Johnny here is quite brutally outperformed by Joel Edgerton. It’s not that Depp is bad, he just isn’t especially good. I feel his performance really sopped at mannerisms and the makeup. It’s a performance that seems better than it is. My main problem with it was, at one point a character says “he’s a changed man” but had they’ve not told me that I would have had no idea about him being any different. Edgerton meanwhile is genuinely fantastic, he gives a performance that is constantly evolving and changing dependant on his circumstances. I started off not being Edgerton’s largest fan (mostly due to his role in the racist snorefest Exodus) however, after seeing him in The Gift (which he also directed) and now this he is emerging as one of my favourites.
The film has other problems as well, it’s one of those strange biopics that just doesn’t really have a narrative. It just kind of shows events, without saying anything about them or having any through line. It’s not even like it’s filmed as a documentary, because even documentaries tend to show some form of analysis of what you are seeing, instead of just presenting events straight faced. And as such it really does drag.
It’s not all bad, obviously the cast is spectacular and all of them perform as much as they can with small roles. It does look fantastic, and all of the period details are meticulous and engrossing. There are some set pieces that hold the attention more than the rest of the film, the fact remains though Black Mass is mostly just quite dull.