Black Mass is a dramatization of the FBI’s sticky relationship with the infamous South Boston racketeer and murderer Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, played by Johnny Depp: His teeth are crooked and stained, Porsche Carrera aviators circa 1975 sit atop the bridge of his fake nose, over his sky blue contacts, and, replacing r‘s with aahs, he lays on a Boston accent as thick as the lacquer used to spray back his hair, or what he has left of it. But, in a way, the movie is a bait-and-switch, as Depp’s Bulger is secondary to Jack Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton (The Gift), the unscrupulous FBI agent who engineers the “alliance” between the FBI and Whitey, giving Whitey free reign in exchange for information. A Black Mass is a Satanic ritual that inverts the Catholic Mass, a fitting title for a film about the perversion of the justice system, and the thin line between snitching and informing for personal gain. Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth’s script straddles the subject, one foot in Connolly’s camp the other in Whitey’s. Neither of the characters is sympathetic; in the very beginning, the FBI agent cynically confesses he doesn’t think he can make a difference, that he’s simply rooting for the boys from Southie. Which, in itself, may have been interesting, but, when the inevitable fall comes, the director misfires tonally with mopey classical music, making the experience seem jury-rigged. The music alone, by Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL, is enough to convict the movie. But it’s not the music itself—usually moody or overwrought, though there’s a sixties pop song (the movie is set in the late seventies/early eighties)—that’s bad. It’s the choice to employ it. For that director Scott Cooper’s to blame.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White