Black Mass – Blu-ray review

It's been a while since we last saw a decent dramatic performance from Johnny Depp, so long that we can't remember what film it was in.

So it's with a sense of satisfaction that we say that Depp's turn as the notorious south Boston criminal James 'Whitey' Bulger is the most switched on we've seen him in some time.

Not all of it is good news as Mass, directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), is not without its share of problems.

Picking up with members of the Winter Hill gang, they're now incarcerated and giving testimony to the FBI about the criminal activity in Boston throughout the 1970s and 80s, which included everything from racketeering to public assassinations.

The main thread follows Bulger's time as an FBI informant, establishing an alliance with agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) as part of the FBI's attempt to eliminate the Mafia in Boston. Connolly, having known and idolised Bulger when they were younger, is more than happy to keep Bulger free from the FBI's purview, while Bulger sees it as a business opportunity to get rid of his enemies.

In Edgerton Mass has its most interesting character. It's a pride before the fall type of role, but Connolly's swagger when his alliance is producing results and the sweaty nervousness when it begins to fall apart gives Mass a character that's close to sympathetic in a film with very few others.

Which brings us to Depp, and he's certainly upped his game here. The accent, intensity and shark-like stare pitch Bulger as a blue-eyed devil who, like a cancer, infects and damages those around him. It's a good performance, but there's little depth to the character and that's symptomatic of the film as a whole.

The film flits in and out of interviews with Bulger's closest confidantes in Stephen Flemmi (Rory Cochrane), Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons) and John Martorano (W. Earl Brown), but apart from Cochrane's Flemmi they're never truly essential to the story.

It's a shame as the cast assembled is a terrific one but apart from Edgerton and Cochrane they're not well utilised. You can see the merit of telling a story of Bulger's exploits through those who knew him, but it comes across as redundant when even the film seems to lose interest in those characters as it goes on.

Corey Stoll and Kevin Bacon have what amounts to (entertaining) cameos, while female characters are either killed, forgotten or overlooked, which for a 2015 film is somewhat regressive.

There's a great film to be told about this era of Boston, but Black Mass doesn't manage it.

Black Mass hits Blu-ray with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix and apart from a few gunshots there's not much to discuss. Mass is a sombre and moody film and the soundtrack, where little stands out, reflects that.

There aren't any glaring issues, apart from a few spots of dialogue that were just a shade unintelligible. The best we can say is that the sound's at least solid.

Visually there's not a lot that stands out, but cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi displays a deft hand when it comes to creating shadows and contrast with natural light sources. Night scenes have deep blacks, the sickly browns and greens making for a textured picture.

Takayanagi can't obscure the deficiencies in the makeup though, with Depp often looking otherworldly and Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother, state senator William Bulger, has a chin that looks like it came out of a Dick Tracy comic.

In the end Black Mass is a well acted film with a classy cast but never matures into the gripping drama it should be.

It's worth watching for several performances, but overall, Black Mass comes across as a wannabe gangster rather than the real deal.

Buy Black Mass on Blu-ray from Amazon

Bonus Content

  • Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime
  • Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger
  • The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger

Kob began his career at What Hi-Fi?, starting in the dusty stockroom before rising up the ranks to join the editorial and production team as the Buyer’s Guide editor. Experienced in both magazine and online publishing, he now runs the TV & audio section at Trusted Reviews where he keeps a beady eye on all the latest comings and goings in the hi-fi and home cinema market.