The story of Irish-American criminal Whitey Bulger and his collusion with the FBI is a fascinating one, with enough scandal and drama to carry a TV miniseries by itself. Condensing all that relevant material into a two-hour feature film was always going to be a tricky task, but Scott Cooper (who directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar with Crazy Heart) manages to keep everything clear and succinct, even if he never really strays from familiar crime biopic territory. He’s also helped by one of the best performances Johnny Depp has given in years, even if the film itself is somewhat unsettled by its intensity and some strange aesthetic decisions detract from it.

It’s perhaps understandable that the film takes Goodfellas as its inspiration, but it often too clumsily seeks to imitate it directly – the overall structure is very similar and some individual scenes veer close to direct homage. Covering such a broad era in such a short time also has its drawbacks, as many subplots are never quite fully developed and supporting characters are often given short shrift. Also, as good as Depp’s work is here (and he really is great – a truly disturbing portrayal of amoral menace), the choices made with his makeup and hair are often distracting – much like Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, you’re often left looking at the prosthetics rather than engaging with the character.

BLACK MASS
A fascinating and often disturbing true crime drama, skilfully told8
Johnny Depp's chilling, evil-incarnate performance9
Johnny Depp's slightly overdone and distracting hair and makeup4
Using Goodfellas as its storytelling template8
Being nowhere near as good as Goodfellas5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the named female characters talk to each other
7Overall Score

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