Black Mass
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Black Mass

While the whole is less than the sum of its parts, this retelling of the Whitey Bulger story sure has some magnificent parts.

A virtually unrecognizable Johnny Depp stars as the notorious Boston mobster, a character and legend so compelling it has been the pulpy stuff of many books and films, most entertainingly in Scorsese’s throbbing The Departed. Scott Cooper, in his third film, creates a dark and brooding version, allowing his collection of fine actors lots of room to scare the hell out of us. Individually, almost every scene does just that. But, somehow, the marriage of all those scenes never really comes together, leaving us impressed and freaked out, but otherwise left out of the flow.

What does work and work stunningly are the two lead performances. In any other movie, Joel Edgerton’s astonishing turn as the compromised FBI agent John Connolly would be the talk of the town. Edgerton brings Boston Southie roots to his ambitious and fiercely loyal player with enough integrity he, wisely, doesn’t have to get into the trap of overplaying the accent. He says more with his quiet face than with almost any line of dialogue. But Edgerton the actor, like Connolly the good guy, finds himself up against Depp’s breathtakingly good bad guy. In most artistic adaptations, those bad guys are more fun to watch. But Depp doesn’t take the easy, flashy road. He is mesmerizing in his laser like focus, changing even the usual body language we’ve seen in so many films before to something not just fresh but also truly, honestly terrifying.

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