Barring the gravitas lacing Depp’s portrayal of increasingly infamous James “Whitey” Bulger, Black Mass can’t quite shake its ostensible Triple A reenactment feel. Charting the blue-eyed psychopath’s swift rise to criminal superstardom in his native Boston, the film examines Bulger’s steadfastly procured infallibility among peers and rivals. With FBI agent and fellow Southie native John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to thank, creative bloodshed frequently punctuates a broadening warpath toward total domination of the criminal underworld.
If geographic authenticity means masking one’s native accent with another, Black Mass immediately tops the charts. With an affected overarching dialect so distracting it nearly becomes a detriment, the coinciding exchanges and native profanity carry less weight than they should despite the serviceable albeit objectively familiar engagement factor present. A gangster does gangster things as factual exposition details when, where and why, thus rendering dialectic hyperbole the least of the film’s worries.
Depp’s laudable turn as Bulger can’t quite stave off Black Mass‘ questionable romanticization of the character, of whom is awkwardly compassionate when he’s not compulsively violent. The film’s slick presentation of the greatest hits peppering his legacy is undeniably impressive though, even if the criminality timeline conceit is something we’ve seen employed throughout dozens of other true crime efforts. An embellished verbal exchange here, a key sequence there – Black Mass adheres to exaggerated biographical trappings in a manner unable to reinvigorate the formula it replicates.
Black Mass is at its best a meaty slice of awards-pandering banality. Its examination of the relationship between Bulger and Connolly that shaped the former’s legacy is agreeably involving, yet the film unavoidably falls victim to an air of total needlessness. During a time when Bulger himself is still relevant – and especially after 2006’s The Departed – anticipation was almost solely contingent upon Depp’s presumed resurgence. Black Mass’ parts are glaringly greater than their sum, of which is ostensibly an actor’s showcase in a grimy, era-specific wrapper.