by Alan Yudman

It has been three weeks since I saw BLACK MASS. That’s how long it has been rolling around in my head, while I try to figure out if it’s good, great or something far less. There’s no denying one thing. This is the best work Johnny Depp has done in years. He’s not a pirate or some other character born out of fantasy. James “Whitey” Bulger is all too real. He is a violent, evil, menacing mobster and watching Depp you get a real sense of just how bad this man could be. Bulger was brutal, vindictive and did not suffer fools gladly. The first time we see him he is chastising a colleague for licking his fingers and sticking them in a bowl of peanuts in a bar. But you get the sense that he could just as easily have killed the guy right there. That’s the good in this movie. Maybe even the great. The script is better than average, based on the book by two Boston Globe writers Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The direction by Scott Cooper (CRAZY HEART) is also better than average but the cinematography is unremarkable or even pedestrian. That is to say it doesn’t draw any attention to itself, so maybe that’s a good thing. On the drawing attention to oneself spectrum, Joel Edgerton is at the other end of the scale. He plays John Connolly, the Southie (South Boston) native who grew up with Bulger and his brother Billy. Connolly is now an FBI agent and thinks he can use his “neighborhood is thicker than water” connection to Bulger to turn him into an FBI informant. It works for a time. They get maybe one good bust out of Bulger’s information, but the rest of the time it is more of a boondoggle that Bulger has pulled on his old buddy that allows him to take over and control organized crime in Boston. That is Connolly’s downfall. Edgerton plays Connolly as a bombastic “wiseguy”, who thinks he’s smarter than his colleagues and whose loyalty to what is right is in question from the start. Edgerton’s accent is good, but it slips at times. Not as bad as Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but it is noticeable. Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger doesn’t have a lot to do other than one scene where he dismisses Connolly who comes looking for a favor. Any other “name” you see in the credits has so little to do on screen that it doesn’t matter who they are. This is all about Bulger and his violent rule of the Boston streets. As a document of history it is fairly interesting and from what I can tell, pretty accurate. But as a piece of entertainment, other than Depp, there is not much there.

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