Black Mass,” the new Warner Bros. drama documenting his reign of terror over Irish Catholic South Boston, directed by Scott Cooper and headlined by Johnny Depp as Bulger, indicates he still eludes us. Guided by witnesses’ recorded testimonies, “Black Mass” is like an old chronological scrapbook from 1975 to the late 1980s reorganized for bureaucratic eyes. Yet as Cooper emphasizes objectivity, Johnny Depp’s Bulger is an unnerving anomaly—a hybrid of Nosferatu, Pazuzu and Gollum DNA, a horror movie presence contaminating an Irish Catholic period canvas. That a character should be reading “The Exorcist” when Depp’s Bulgerferatu knocks on the door is less period correctness than an allusion to the character’s satanic prowess. In such a thin film, Bulger evades perspective. “Black Mass” cannot make sense of Bulger. Even when he's taken away in handcuffs, he still isn’t “there." It’s as if he needed to be a cosmeticized special effect because Cooper finds his evil unfathomable.
Read the rest at RogerEbert.com: http://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/of-rats-and-men-black-mass-vs-the-departed
Order your copy of Off the Map: Freedom, Control, and the Future in Michael Mann's Public Enemies, published by Cascade Books, here.