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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Johnny Depp finally shed the pirate get-up and crawled out of Tim Burton’s tight grasp to portray real-life mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger in last weekend’s "Black Mass." While the film was able to resurrect Depp’s acting credentials, it was incapable of reviving itself after a jumbled beginning.

The crime drama tells the story of Bulger trying to take over the streets of South Boston in the 1970s. When Bulger finds out his childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) works for the FBI, he must decide whether it is worth being a government informant — or a rat, as he disdainfully calls it — in order to obliterate a rival gang. Based on a biographical novel, "Black Mass" explores the tricky relationship between law enforcement and criminal mobs through a surplus of subplots, which leave the audience struggling to keep up.

The majority of the film is exposition, which introduces and juggles more characters than director Scott Cooper and the audience can handle. While some of the side characters serve a small purpose, like Bulger’s politician brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch), who adds to the governmental plot, few others have any reason whatsoever to exist in the narrative.

Between every brutal blow and strong line of dialogue is a drawn-out sequence meant to humanize the characters, though these only prove to be awkward considering the characters are unlikable. Scenes that should be emotional are instead overly dramatized to the point that they do not feel serious at all.

There is one reason to see the film: the performances. Depp is riveting and intimidating. His name will likely be tossed around during upcoming award shows. Cumberbatch, though playing a minor role, is also impressive with a Bostonian accent.

A small part by Kevin Bacon as an FBI official reveals he, too, can still hold his weight in the movies. Any discrepancies in the writing are easily overcome by these top-billed actors — their unsettling blue eye contacts, however, are not so easily overcome.

Though it could have used more violence and fewer characters, "Black Mass" is by no means a failure. It still provides an interesting interpretation of Bulger’s life and his rise to prominence, though its depictions of real events have been contested. The film’s greatest flaw is that it simply gives so much it’s almost criminal.

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