Black Mass wants so badly to win an Oscar. The acting, directing, costuming, possibly even the sound mixing, all seem especially designed to result in winning an Oscar for something. Anything. The desperation is blatant and it unfortunately hinders Black Mass from being worthy of reward.
Black Mass is based on the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), an infamous crime boss who ruled South Boston from the ’70s to the ’90s. Bulger’s childhood friend, John Connelly (Edgerton), is an FBI agent who approaches Bulger to work as an informant. Bulger accepts, and with the FBI’s protection he eliminates his enemies, gaining power and notoriety in his neighborhood.
Many have hyped Black Mass as Johnny Depp’s “return to form” after spending more than a decade playing wacky characters, but this performance is closer to Dark Shadows than Donnie Brasco. It appears that Depp has lost the ability to convey recognizable human emotion and is reduced to a collection of tics that vaguely mimic human behavior. Depp’s “physical transformation” is intended to inspire awe, but the awful makeup and colored contacts just diminish his believability even further.
The supporting cast is similarly disappointing. They’re uniformly great actors but all are directed as if every scene is their Oscar clip. It results in shallow and often hammy performances that do every actor a disservice.
Black Mass is slickly directed by Scott Cooper and looks stunning but has no inner life. We see all of Bulger’s terrible crimes but we never understand why he commits them. Every character and relationship exists solely on a surface level. There’s not even an attempt to explain why it’s called Black Mass in the first place.
There might be a great movie buried within Black Mass. The parts are all there; they just need to be crafted with a motivation higher than garnering attention at awards shows.