by Patrick Bromley
Black Mass, the third feature from director Scott Cooper, feels like an Air-Quote Movie. It is slick and totally competent and looks the part but is informed only by other movies. It's a whole bunch of wigs and makeup and production design, like a group of people playing dress up. The movie is perfectly well made. The cast is impressive and, to a person, does a good job. But Black Mass has nothing to offer that hasn't been served up by a dozen crime movies past.
Every single actor in Black Mass is recognizable and talented, from Bulger's crew made up of W. Earl Brown, Rory Cochrane and Jesse Plemons to the FBI agents tracking them (Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll) to Bulger's senator brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) to Bulger and Connolly's wives (Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson, respectively). Cooper has stacked the deck in the film's favor. Masanobu Takayangi's photography has the right combination of slickness and grit for a period crime drama. Tom Holkenborg's (aka Junkie XL) score is effective without ever being bombastic. The editing works in that the scenes are put together well even though it's a two hour movie that feels like a four hour one. Everyone on the movie does good work. It just happens to be in the service of a movie that feels perfunctory when it should burn the screen.
Joel Edgerton is much more interesting as John Connolly, primarily because he has an arc -- he gets to react to things, unlike Depp who is merely the thing to which others react. Connolly maintains the illusion throughout all of Black Mass that he's a good guy who's doing the right thing, telling the lie so long he stops being aware of the fact that it's a lie at all. It's there in the way his voice inflects up with every line delivery. Watching Edgerton grow more and more panicked as he tries to keep all his balls in the air and keep the Feds away from Bulger is the closest the movie comes to generating real human drama, and even though Connolly is portrayed as basically a piece of shit we can at least recognize him as being human. He's flawed and terrible, but human.
American Hustle of gangster movies.